Expansion of Pak’s huge cabinet will cost even if members work for free

Islamabad [Pakistan], February 11 (ANI): The decision of Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to add numerous Special Assistants to the PM (SAPM) in his cabinet without any clear criteria has received criticism. As experts say that such a decision is an "insensitive" move when the country is in economic crisis, reported Express Tribune.

Since coming to power in April last year, Shehbaz Sharif has been calling for austerity but the frequent expansion of the cabinet by inducting more people as SAPM has raised several eyebrows.

Former senator and lawyer Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar and ex-minister of state and chairman of Board of Investment of Pakistan (BOL) Haroon Sharif, among others, lashed out at the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) led ruling alliance for being disconnected from the masses, calling for cutting the cabinet’s size amid the worst financial crisis.

While reacting to the coalition government’s federal cabinet swelling to 85 members, Khokhar said, "The government has shown real insensitivity by appointing several more SAPMs at a time when the country is going through one of the worst financial crises in its history".

Stating that "the ruling elites are not only tone deaf but disconnected from the masses," he said they had no idea about the choices people were being forced to make regarding meeting kitchen expenses as well as paying their bills, rents and children’s school fees, the report said.

While the ruling government claimed that the newly appointed SAPMs will not be any burden on the government. Khokhar said that the government might harp on about the new appointees being no burden on the exchequer but at the end of the day they would be given offices and the paraphernalia that comes with it. "This posturing is just an eyewash," he said.

Even if the SAPM ministers of the cabinet work for free, the rules to hire SAPMs are open-ended.

"When a SAPM gets the status of state minister, he or she is entitled to all perks and privileges like a house or house allowance, car, fuel, servants etc. They also get an office and staff," former BOL chairman Haroon Sharif said. "So, even if the salary is not drawn, these posts cost the government heavily," he explained.

Former human rights minister Dr Shireen Mazari seconded Khokhar and Sharif, saying: "It costs a lot for the SAPMs to set up their offices, staff, cars etc., even if they are working pro bono (for free)."The Article 92 of the Pakistan Constitution states that the number of ministers and ministers of state in the federal cabinet should not exceed 11 per cent of the total membership of parliament. The current cabinet number of ministers includes 34 federal ministers, seven ministers of state, four advisers and 40 SAPMs, the report by express Tribune, a news organisation from Pakistan claims.

This is when the country’s parliament consists of 342 members and the Senate consists of 104 members or a combined strength of 446 and 11 per cent of this is just 49 ministers, according to the report.

However, the Express Tribune claims that the Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb did not reply to any text by the publication to comment on the matter. (ANI)