Trimming the cabinet

Finally, after getting a lot of flak from a wide section of the public and a deadline agenda from the PML-N to effect economy in expenditure in running the affairs of the state, the PPP Central Executive Committee has decided to trim the over-bloated federal cabinet to a comparatively reasonable size. Speculations put the expected number of ministers in the next cabinet to around 30, as against its present strength of 56. Co-Chairman of the party, President Zardari, took the sense of the CEC and authorised Prime Minister Gilani, who was also present, to go ahead with dissolving the present cabinet and forming a new one comprising men of integrity, competence and efficiency in consultation with the coalition parties. Telephone calls were made to PML-N leader Mian Nawaz Sharif and other party heads to put them in the picture about this development. Secretary-General Jehangir Badr, who addressed a press conference to give details of the meeting, maintained that the decision about the cabinet did not suggest that the PPP was following the agendas of other political parties, a particular allusion to the PML-N, but it was in the interest of the people. The reduced size was also required under the 18th Amendment. Mr Badr claimed that a strategy to check the artificial rise in prices had been developed and the provincial governments were also being advised to adopt it. Interestingly, while a political party worth its salt is supposed to have its finger on the pulse of the public, it took the PPP three long years in power to reach the conclusion that among the policies that would serve the larger interests of the people is to have a smaller government. Apparently, a major force of change is the PML-Ns pressure for reforms and, possibly to an extent, the haunting prospect of the next general elections when the PPP would have to answer for the worsening plight of the common man, while letting a battery of ministers live off the government lavishly. The other factor, of course, is the devolution of certain portfolios to the provinces. Since Mr Badr denied there were any corrupt ministers in the set-up, it is not difficult to predict that it would be old wine in new bottles, as aptly put by this papers correspondent while writing about the expected change that might come about by Monday. It must be kept in mind that if nothing is done to erase the image of corruption that is writ large on the performance of the government and the public mind, tinkering with the cabinet size would not help matters. The authorities would have to seriously address this issue as well as the growing impoverishment of the people and the question of compliance with judicial verdicts, irrespective of their implications. The desired change can occur not to a small measure because of the seriousness the PML-N shows about having its agenda implemented.

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