In Punjab, a Christian can’t present the provincial budget

Some PML-N MPAs object to faith of fellow party member Kamran Michael.

LAHORE: Several provincial legislators in Punjab belonging to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) have objected to Punjab cabinet member Kamran Michael presenting the budget on grounds that he is Christian, sources within the party told The Express Tribune.

Sources say PML-N leaders are in a bind trying to figure out who to assign the finance ministry portfolio before the budget is presented before the Punjab Assembly on June 10.

Several party members are reported to have objected to a Christian being given such a prominent position as that of delivering the annual budget speech and fear losing votes amongst some of their conservative, right-wing vote bank. The PML-N is already afraid of losing ground in its heartland of Punjab to other parties that have been making inroads in the province in recent months.

Michael had been given charge of the finance ministry in March, after the PML-N kicked out the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) from Punjab’s ruling coalition. He replaced the PPP’s Tanveer Ashraf Kaira, in addition to retaining his earlier portfolio of human rights and minorities affairs.

However, while Michael was minister in theory, in practise the position has been managed by Sardar Zulfiqar Khan Khosa, senior adviser to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. Khosa attended all meetings related to the budget and was the de facto head of the ministry, despite the fact that Punjab government rules prohibit an adviser from heading any departmental business, even those at a department to which he or she has been assigned.
Sources say that Michael was forbidden from even contacting the finance secretary or the chairman of the planning and development department.

Michael holds the finance ministry as an “additional portfolio”, which means that he is authorised to present the budget. However, he has not been assigned the ministry itself. Rule 136 of the Punjab Assembly Rules of Procedure requires the provincial budget to be presented by the finance minister or another minister who has been assigned his portfolio.

According to the rules of the Punjab Assembly, the residual powers of any unfilled portfolios in the provincial cabinet are transferred to the chief minister until a new minister is appointed. Shahbaz currently holds 20 portfolios himself, having failed to appoint cabinet ministers after kicking out the PPP from the ruling coalition.
Sources said that PML-N members have suggested that the “additional portfolio” for the finance ministry be given to Education and Excise Minister Mujtaba Shuja Rehman in order to avoid Michael presenting the budget.

A final decision on the matter is expected to be taken at a party meeting on Tuesday (today).
Since the chief minister technically occupies the powers of finance minister, he could present the budget himself, without having to assign the portfolio to any other cabinet member.

Punjab Government spokesman Senator Pervaiz Rashid told The Express Tribune that Rehman is most likely to present the Punjab budget for fiscal year 2012.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 7th, 2011.



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