The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) led by former prime minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif has succumbed to pressure by most of its legislators of the Punjab Provincial Assembly to not let a Christian cabinet minister present the provincial budget for 2011-12 just because of his faith.
Kamran Michael, who holds the portfolio of Punjab
Minorities Affairs Ministry, was given the additional charge of the provincial Finance Ministry, a few months ago [in March] when the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which was a coalition partner of the PML-N in Punjab, was forced to quit the government in wake of widening rift between the two parties.
According to reports, the PML-N leaders are now in a quandary 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 the recent months.
However, while Michael was minister in theory, in practice 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.
Michael was forbidden from even contacting the provincial finance secretary or the chairman of the Planning and Development Department ever since he had assumed charge of the Finance Ministry. Michael is authorised to present the budget as 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.