Kaira returns to his favourite ministry: Strange portfolios allotted to some ministers -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Kaira returns to his favourite ministry: Strange portfolios allotted to some ministers

Khawar Ghumman

ISLAMABAD: A five-day guessing game came to an end on Wednesday after Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani finalised the portfolios of 15 newly inducted ministers.

The six federal ministers and nine ministers of state were sworn in three days apart. President Asif Ali Zardari inducted 11 ministers on April 13 and another four on April 16. This is the longest ministers have ever gone without knowing their portfolios.

The long wait led to stories about tensions within the party as new ministers lobbied for ministries already held by others.

Nevertheless, the new appointments — all of which are from the PPP and Punjab — indicate that the party is finally gearing up for the political challenge they face from the PML-N in Punjab in the next elections. The ministers have been given especially important portfolios.

As expected, Qamar Zaman Kaira returned as Information and Broadcasting Minister — a post he had held for a few years before it was handed over to Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan in February last year. Mr Kaira, who is also PPP’s information secretary, has been expected to re-enter the federal cabinet ever since he was removed 11 months ago. He was not disappointed thanks to the backing of the prime minister.

Dr Awan was given the newly-formed Federal Ministry of National Regulation and Services. Observers expect her to be disappointed with the shift. Nonetheless, it is noteworthy that she is one of only a few within the PPP who have retained a slot in the cabinet continuously.

Another PPP heavyweight and former minister of water and power, Raja Pervez Ashraf, became the Minister of Information Technology.

“In terms of profile, it is a huge ministry which manages projects worth billions of rupees. Its Universal Support Fund (USF) is worth nearly Rs60 billion. Mr Ashraf will once again be sitting on a goldmine,” quipped a PPP insider.

Punjab Governor Sardar Latif Khosa, who served as adviser to the prime minister on IT before his governorship, had publicly talked about massive corruption within the ministry.

Mr Ashraf is already facing Supreme Court indictment for his alleged role in the shady RPP deals in his erstwhile Ministry of Water and Power and will have to be extra careful in running his new ministry, said a PPP lawmaker who refused to come on record.

According to reports, Mr Ashraf wanted to return to his earlier home — water and power. The ministry is presently being run by Naveed Qamar, a PPP stalwart from Sindh.

“Raja Pervez Ashraf wanted water and power, but in the presence of Naveed Qamar, Prime Minister Gilani couldn’t help him,” said the PPP official.

Nazar Mohammad Gondal, a senior PPP leader who was the federal minister of food and agriculture prior to its devolution will now be overseeing another newly formed division named Capital Administration and Development.

A PPP source remarked that Mr Gondal was unhappy with his new portfolio. “Politicians with rural background need ministries that can facilitate their constituents.”

Rana Mohammad Farooq Saeed, former textile minister, has been named federal Minister of Climate Change. Many are unsure about Mr Saeed’s responsibilities.

Maula Bux Chandio will be continuing as federal Minister of Political Affairs, a Prime Minister’s secretariat official said. During his previous stint as minister of law, many say that his predecessor, Senator Babar Awan, and the latter’s brother advised the prime minister on law and thus ran the ministry for all intents and purposes.

Among ministers of state, Syed Sumsam Ali Bukhari and Malik Ammad Khan have returned to information and broadcasting and foreign affairs, respectively. They held the same portfolios until the cabinet was reshuffled in February 2011.

Chaudhry Imtiaz Safdar Warraich, the former minister of state for communications, is now in charge of the Interior Division. Observers remark that it will be interesting to see how he works with Interior Minister Rehman Malik. As the PPP chief in Punjab, Mr Warraich will definitely assert his new position. It remains to be seen whether Mr Malik will allow him space in the ministry, given Mr Malik’s domination of the ministry since 2008.

The former minister of state for interior Tasneem Qureshi has been given the portfolio of water and power. Throughout 2009-10, Mr Qureshi remained in headlines for his alleged role in awarding thousands of unaccounted licences of prohibited-bore arms. His new role will be closely watched.

Other ministers of state include Sardar Mohammad Muazzam Ali Jatoi (National Food Security and Research), Malik Azmat Khan (Inter-Provincial Coordination), Raheela Baloch (Science and Technology), Dost Mohammad Mazari (Communications), Sardar Saleem Haider (Defence) and Abbas Khan Afridi (Commerce).