ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s ministers on Wednesday submitted their resignations to the prime minister as part of plans to appoint a smaller cabinet in order to reduce government spending at a time of economic crisis.
Still reeling from unprecedented flooding last year that caused damages of $9.7 billion, the government is under huge pressure to introduce economic reforms and meet IMF targets agreed in a 2008 bail-out package.
“Today’s meeting is going to be the last meeting of the present cabinet,” Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told more than 50 ministers, praising their record on the economy, constitutional reform and response to major floods.
Government officials said the ministers tendered their resignations to Gilani and that the new cabinet would be announced within four days, although analysts and the political opposition dismissed the move as window dressing.
“The size of the new cabinet will be smaller than this one,” Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira told state-run television.
“It was a demand from the opposition to cut the cabinet size and the People’s Party government listened the voice of the masses and opposition.”
A government official told AFP that the cabinet would be formerly dissolved after President Asif Ali Zardari accepts the resignations.
The main ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) last week authorised Gilani to dissolve the cabinet after powerful opposition parties demanded a smaller line-up as part of retrenchment efforts to tackle Pakistan’s economic woes.
A reduction in the size of the cabinet is a legal requirement of the 18th amendment to the constitution, which stipulates it should be no larger than 11 percent of parliament, which would be a maximum of 49 members.
The government is under huge pressure from the opposition to implement a raft of reforms, in order to head off any possible threat of a call for early elections from opposition leader and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
Sharif in January gave the government 45 days to implement key reforms or risk having the PPP kicked out of government in Punjab province.
Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N party said Wednesday that the government needed to do far more to curb spending than simply appointing a new cabinet.
“We have demanded a 30-percent reduction in government expenditure… So far we are disappointed. The 45-day period will be over before the end of the month but they have done nothing tangible,” said party spokesman Siddiqul Farooq.
“We may think seriously about making an appeal to the people of Pakistan to demand fresh elections. We have to see the size and the credibility of the new cabinet members. Only then can we say whether it fulfils our demand.”
The right-wing Jamaat-i-Islami party said that up to 90 people enjoyed ministerial perks including advisors and special assistants to those holding the cabinet portfolios.
“It was a huge burden on our economy and the national exchequer,” party spokesman Farid Paracha told AFP.
“They must cut their lavish spending and curtail non development expenditure by at least 30 percent because the economy is heading towards collapse.”
Analysts were also sceptical, saying the resignations are unlikely to satisfy the IMF and international donors.
“The government will have to slash the number of ministries and surplus people in order to ensure substantive expenditure cuts. Merely downsizing the cabinet cabinet will not do any good,” said economic analyst Salman Shah.