Punjab Minority Affairs Minister Kamran Michael, who lost the provincial Finance Ministry portfolio just a day ago, has been called back as finance minister to present the provincial budget for 2011-2010 on June 10, amid accusations that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government in Punjab was discriminating against Christians.
In a historic development, this will be the first time ever that a non-Muslim will present the Punjab budget.
The Punjab government had notified Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman on Tuesday – who already has five portfolios including excise and taxation, transport, non-formal education, higher education and school education – as the finance minister to table the budget.
However, a few hours later Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif reversed the decision and reappointed Michael amid news reports dubbing the PML-N government in Punjab as discriminatory to Christians and of possible protests by non-Muslims in the budget session, coupled with international reactions reprimanding the Sharifs for being “radical”.
A senior PML-N leader told Pakistan Today that the decision to reinstate Michael was made in an important meeting at CM’s Secretariat, which was called to review the political fallout from the earlier decision to hand the Finance Ministry to Rehman.
The meeting, he said, decided that the PML-N government had already been accused of supporting jihadists who hated religious minorities, and having taken this step – though uncalled – the party had drawn ire from various circles, including the United States and European countries.
Given the unwanted situation, the PML-N could not afford to be stigmatised as being prejudiced against Christians, the meeting decided. “That is why the party leadership, which was very mindful of the precarious situation, did not spare a moment in restoring Kamran Michael to protect its image on the national and international stage,” a source in CM’s Secretariat said.
He said it was beyond comprehension why the decision to withdraw the Finance Ministry from Michael was made in the first place, since he had been made finance minister after the cabinet extension two months ago. He said Michael was set to present the budget but all of sudden Rehman was handed the portfolio for the Finance Ministry.
He claimed that there were some “orthodox hawks” in the party who influenced the decision making of the Punjab government. The hard-line lobby resisted the decision to let Michael present the budget and advised Shahbaz against it because the PML-N supported Islamisation and a Christian presenting the budget would go against the ideology, said the source. He said that the “extremist mafia” also argued that it was unprecedented and unheard of for a Christian to have the honour of presenting the budget in the Punjab government.
He also said PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, Senator Ishaq Dar and National Assembly Opposition Leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali were also onboard when the ministry was reshuffled.
Punjab government’s spokesman Pervaiz Rashid told Pakistan Today that Michael would indeed present the budget on June 10. He said that some people had tried to spoil the balanced and unbiased image of the PML-N and its government in Punjab after Mujtaba was made finance minister.
He said the PML-N was a “torch-bearer of inter-faith harmony” and never discriminated against Christians or any other minorities. “The decision to hand the Finance Ministry to Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman was an administrative one and its reversal is also on the same grounds,” he said.