EDITORIAL: Not so new after all - Sunday, February 13, 2011

Source : http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2011\02\13\story_13-2-2011_pg3_1

The government has finally announced the names of the initial 22 members of the federal cabinet, a move that has evoked widespread interest and plenty of speculation. Acting on the promises made in the 18th Amendment, whereby the cabinet size was not to exceed 11 percent of the total number of seats in both houses of parliament, this resizing has also been touted as a response to the PML-N’s demands for the PPP to follow through on a 10-point agenda. Reports have been making the rounds on the haves and have-nots for the now limited ministerial slots and, well, the results are not all that surprising.

Out of 22 cabinet members, 18 are old faces from the PPP making up the ‘new and improved’ cabinet — the only difference being that their portfolios have been revised and, in some cases, turned up or down a notch. What has left speculators stunned is the fact that Shah Mehmood Qureshi has been axed as the Foreign Minister and, as he was unwilling to relinquish this designation and take a different portfolio, he has been left out in the cold altogether. For the time being the slot remains empty with Hina Rabbani Khar being made the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. Some corners are saying that Qureshi may not have been prone to give in to American ire over the Raymond Davis case. Another PPP loyalist, Qamar Zaman Kaira, who was the Minister for Information and Broadcasting, has also been neglected for a ministerial slot. In a surprising move, Firdous Ashiq Awan — known for her on-air slips of tongue — who was the Minister for Population Welfare, is now slated to occupy Kaira’s ministry. What comes as no surprise whatsoever is that Raja Pervez Ashraf (of the water and power ministry) has been axed without being offered any other portfolio to do damage to. It is well known that he was probably one of the most inefficient ministers in the cabinet, doing nothing to fix the mega power shortages and surrounded by allegations of corruption. Eight ministries have been retained by the prime minister such as water and power, human rights and defence production among others. It is being speculated that these ministries are, currently, being kept aside as large, rather juicy carrots for the MQM and JUI-F to lure them back into the coalition.

While most of the same faces abound, it must be appreciated that, at the very least, if not quality, quantity is being tackled. The previous cabinet size was appalling for our national exchequer. The army of ministers, their many advisers and the extra fringes that made up the cabinet also made a huge dent on the finances of the state. It must be asked then why this move was not implemented earlier considering the crisis being faced by the state and the pathetic condition of our economy. It must also be asked why these 18 odd familiar faces have been given a second chance. Was their track record that unblemished as to deserve another round? Even if they are not, what are the alternatives? It seems the PPP may not have had much choice.

The fact remains that Pakistan is in crisis mode and what it needs is a new set of policies, preferably by different draftsmen than those we had before. However, it is now up to the new cabinet to enforce some rock solid economic, social and political policies. It is said that electricity tariffs are to be increased further and that the petroleum levy is to be reimposed irrespective of the international price of oil. The forecasts of doom need some wise people at the helm of state affairs to work for the welfare of the masses — not for themselves. *


Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) employees called off their strike after the government met one of their three demands and announced the removal of managing director Aijaz Haroon. The other two demands are withdrawal of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Turkish Airlines (TA) for codesharing and reinstatement of the sacked employees. During the four days of strike, the airline sustained a loss of four billion rupees and about 25,000 passengers were affected. It is pertinent to ask if the government had to ultimately capitulate to the strikers’ demand, why did it let the situation deteriorate to this level. One expected sagacity and foresight from politicians, assumed to be astute negotiators, sitting at the helm of affairs. Timely action could have saved the national flag carrier further loss of reputation and customers from avoidable torment. It remains to be seen how the government deals with the other two demands of the PIA employees.

On the face of it, the terms of the deal being negotiated with the TA are detrimental to the market profile of the PIA. The PIA employees had serious reservations against surrendering of some of the most profitable routes used by Pakistani expatriates to the TA in a deal crafted by its managing director. Although the government has denied that any agreement had been signed with the TA, there are credible news reports that negotiations were underway for such an arrangement and an MoU had already been signed. Apparently, the managing director had not taken the employees on board in the decision making process, hence the build up of resentment against him. As far as the reinstatement of the sacked employees is concerned, the government would need to make tough decisions because PIA’s employees-to-seat ratio is among the highest in the world. Political considerations rather than merit govern the recruitment policy of PIA, hence the overstaffing. Either it should stop new recruitments and gradually decrease staff with the retirement of old employees or it should make the economy cuts where there is flab without hurting the marketing profile of the airline. PIA has suffered a steep decline in its service standards over the past few years and has lost the trust of the customers for reliability. Without taking hard decisions and necessary measures to run it along corporate lines, annual injections of money from the national exchequer cannot rescue the sinking ship of PIA. *

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