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Cabinet resigns, MQM, JUI not to join new set-up

09 February, 2011

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ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet resigned on Wednesday to allow Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to form a new, smaller cabinet to reduce the expenditure while the government’s efforts to bring the MQM and JUI-F back into the new set-up once again met with failure.

The ministers submitted their resignations to the prime minister during the cabinet meeting here at the Prime Minister’s Secretariat. The prime minister will send the resignations to President Asif Ali Zardari with the advice to dissolve the cabinet once the ministers of state also resign.

No minister of state was invited to the cabinet meeting except Ms Hina Rabbani Khar, who attended the meeting as the head of the Economic Affairs Division. Two federal ministers Makhdoom Amin Fahim and Babar Awan had already handed over their resignations to President Zardari during the PPP’s CEC meeting that was held last week.

The CEC had authorised the prime minister to form a new cabinet in consultation with the coalition partners. The new cabinet will be formed in phases and in the first phase, 15 to 20 ministers will take oath in the next 48 hours.

According to sources, the new cabinet will comprise 15 ministers and out of them seven will be old faces while eight will be new ones. Sources said in the new cabinet, two women will also be inducted as federal ministers.

Sources said the government had also two portfolios on quota for the coalition partners in the first phase of 15 cabinet ministers.

In his emotional address to the outgoing ministers, Prime Minister Gilani said: “Today’s meeting is going to be the last meeting of the present cabinet and I can very proudly claim that your performance since March 31, 2008 remained very satisfactory given the very difficult circumstances under which we worked throughout this period.”

The cabinet held 75 meetings since March 2008 and took 782 decisions, of which 605 were implemented while 175 decisions are in the process of implementation. This indicates that 77% decisions of the cabinet were implemented.

The prime minister recalled that in March 2008, the country faced extremely difficult circumstances because of the economic meltdown and terrorism, and doubts were expressed on the survival of Pakistan as a nation. “The cabinet and the political leadership of the country successfully steered this nation towards a sustainable path of economic recovery by initiating both short-term and long-term policies such as rationalisation of subsidies and tremendous boost to the agriculture sector,” he added.

He said the steps taken by the government had resulted in a great surge in the country’s exports, which this year will surpass the target and a record inflow of remittances was expected. “This shows the confidence of Pakistanis living abroad in the policies and initiatives of the present government,” he added.

The prime minister told the cabinet that today the foreign exchange reserves stand at an all-time high of over $17 billion and investors’ confidence can also be gauged from a steady rise in the stock exchange index, which has crossed 12,000 points, a giant leap from 5,000 points three years ago.

He said that the country saw through an unprecedented flood in the history of the region. “The government is thankful to our foreign friends who helped Pakistan in these trying times and more so proud of the brave and steadfast nation, which faced this calamity with courage.” Counting the achievements of his government, the prime minister said the government announced the National Finance Commission Award, initiated the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan package, gave political rights to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and was successfully fighting a war against terrorism with the help of valiant security forces and brothers and sisters of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. “And last but not the least was a successful effort to make the Council of Common Interests an effective body,” he added.

He said during the past three years, the government took some of the most crucial and important decisions, which were endorsed by parliament. “This cabinet endorsed historic bills including the 18th and 19th Amendments to the Constitution. By doing so, the Constitution was restored to its original form as given to the country by great leader Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and as promised by Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto,” he said and added that these landmark decisions will shape the future of this country.

The prime minister thanked his cabinet colleagues for standing resolutely behind the political leadership on critical issues. He expressed his firm resolve to continue with the policy of reconciliation and moving towards the implementation of constitutional amendments.

The prime minister said it was for the first time in the history of Pakistan that the federal cabinet had voluntarily agreed to resign to reduce the expenditure. This, he said, was in response to the wishes of the people, civil society and media.

Meanwhile, the PPP leadership’s efforts to bring the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) back into the federal government have met with failure once again.

The MQM, which had reviewed its decision to become a part of the treasury benches, after the increase in the PoL prices was reversed, has linked its rejoining to the implementation of its nine-point agenda.

“Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani rang Altaf Bhai a few days back and invited the MQM to join the ruling coalition, but our leader politely declined to do so,” said Izharul Hasan, who is an Adviser to Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah, when approached for comments on the new scenario after the ministers tendered their resignations to PM Gilani.

The member of the provincial legislature maintained that prior to considering the offer, they would like the government to show positive results on economic revival, address law and order and dispel some other concerns relating to the common man.

He made it clear that the MQM was a political party of masses, and it would not support any move that might further dent their already precarious economic position.

Replying to a question, Izhar said the MQM had not outright decided to maintain the status quo i.e. to continue sitting on the treasury benches and staying away from the federal government. “The MQM will not hesitate to become a part of the federal government again but only after seeing a significant progress on its nine-point agenda, already given to the government team,” he contended.

JUI-F’s Central Information Secretary Maulana Muhammad Amjad, when contacted on phone, said on rejoining the government, the situation was unchanged.

He admitted on the wishes of President Asif Ali Zardari, Maulana Fazlur Rehman met him on Wednesday and later the president arranged the JUI-F leader’s meeting with Prime Minister Gilani, but one thing was sure that they were not rejoining the federal cabinet or the treasury benches.

To a question as to what was Maulana Fazl’s reply to President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani’s invitation to rejoining the government, he said the JUI-F leader talked about the masses concern to the proposed changes in the blasphemy laws but declined to accept the invitation.

Maulana Amjad contended the federal government was not their problem; they wanted a categorical assurance from the rulers that the blasphemy laws would not be touched again.

During the Zardari-Fazl meeting and afterwards Gilani-Fazl rendezvous, issues ranging from the blasphemy law, to the worsening economic situation were discussed threadbare.

Asked if he was sure Maulana Fazl would not rejoin the government, he asserted that as the spokesman of the party, he knew the JUI-F’s position would remain unchanged.

Agencies add: The government plans to reduce the number of ministers by more than a third. Key portfolios such as finance and foreign affairs are likely to be retained by their current holders, indicating the government’s desire for continuity in its dealings with the United States and IMF.

Analysts, however, said the cabinet revamp would do little to address the structural problems the economy faced. Pakistan’s already feeble economy was battered by floods last year that inflicted $10 billion in damage. Foreign aid has been slow in coming, in part because of concern about the government’s ability and willingness to implement financial reform.

Political stability in Pakistan, a vital US ally, is crucial to the war effort in neighbouring Afghanistan and to combating militancy in Pakistan’s tribal areas along the Afghan border. An $11 billion IMF loan programme has kept Pakistan’s economy afloat since November 2008.

Despite trimming the cabinet, the government is unlikely to win support from the opposition for economic reforms as demanded by the IMF. The main opposition party led by Nawaz Sharif, and even some government allies, are opposed to the RGST and have demanded the government cut its expenditure and curb corruption as alternative measures.

End.

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