The heart of the matter - Irfan Husain - Saturday, January 22, 2011

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ISLAMABAD: The merger of seven departments in Punjab as part of a cost cutting exercise has not resulted in trimming the size of the provincial cabinet, which otherwise remains small as against its counterparts at the federal and provincial levels.

The amalgamation affected three ministers belonging to the Pakistan People’s Party and one from the Pakistan Muslim League-N, a senior official told The News. He said that the PPP was yet undecided about seeking from Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif any portfolio for Farooq Ghurki, whose Information Technology Ministry was merged during the exercise.

Senior minister Raja Riaz of the PPP was chairing irrigation, mines and minerals. After the abolition of the sports ministry another PPP minister Dr Rana Tanvirul Islam became without portfolio. He has now been given mines and minerals.

But Raja Riaz has not been given any additional portfolio after the mines and minerals department was shifted to his PPP colleague, the official said. PML-N’s Dost Mohammad Khosa, who was presiding investment and commerce, also became without portfolio after the merger of this ministry. He has now been given industries.

The official said that Shahbaz Sharif was unhappy with his performance and added that this was the precise reason to remove him from local government ministry. He said that junior Khosa had been retained in the cabinet only because of the closeness of his father Sardar Zulfikar Khosa with the Sharif brothers.

He said that the merger of seven departments took place on the recommendation of a committee comprising Zulfikar Khosa, Raja Riaz and Tanvir Ashraf Kaira, which was constituted one and a half years back.

In the 15-member cabinet, nine ministers belonged to the PML-N and six to the PPP while all the remaining portfolios are with Shahbaz Sharif. A number of task forces are also working in the province.

The official said that the share of the PPP and PML-N in the Punjab cabinet was decided when the two parties had formed coalition. This has been strictly followed till to-date, he added.

He said that by having a small cabinet and merging seven departments is meant to cut and keep the administrative expenditure low. “The PML-N started from Punjab where it rules so that its committee is in a better position to argue with the federal government to reduce wasteful spending.”

The official said that the Punjab government had also decided to abolish a number of senior level posts in the districts having overlapping functions but the officers so relieved will be placed in the surplus pool. The public expenditure being incurred on vehicles and buildings being used by these officers and different allowances availed by them will thus be saved. The scrapping of these posts, the official said, would help get rid of bottlenecks being faced by people at large because of duplication of functions and curtail the avenues of corruption.

He said that there was no point to have officers in five or more tiers at the district level. He said some of them have lost utility but are around only because successive governments had not been able to take a decision about their fate.

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