How big is too big for the federal cabinet?


Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif chairs a meeting of the PML-N’s parliamentary party at the Parliament House. —INP/File
Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif chairs a meeting of the PML-N’s parliamentary party at the Parliament House. —INP/File

After much delay, eight days to be exact since Shehbaz Sharif was elected prime minister of Pakistan, a new cabinet of the coalition government will take an oath.

The incoming cabinet will consist of 30 federal ministers, four ministers of state and three advisers to the prime minister, as of now. There is a possibility of the government adding more names and portfolios to its team in the coming days.

What is a cabinet and what does it do?

The cabinet consists of high-ranking officials, men and women, who are tasked to advise the head of the government, in Pakistan’s case the prime minister, on matters of policy formulation and governance.

As per Article 90 of the Constitution, the executive authority of the federation is exercised by the federal government, consisting of the prime minister and the federal ministers.

Article 91 further specifies that the cabinet, together with the ministers of state, will be collectively responsible to the Senate and the National Assembly.

In other words, a cabinet is strictly the federal ministers and the ministers of state.

Too many ministers: What is a good size?

There is a limit to the number of men and women the prime minister can appoint to sit in his cabinet.

Since the passing of the 18th amendment to the Constitution, as per Article 92 (1) it is now constitutionally mandated that the total strength of the cabinet does not exceed 11% of the total membership of Majlis-e-Shoora (parliament) – this includes the Senate and the National Assembly.

Simply put, the federal cabinet — including ministers and ministers of state — cannot exceed 49 members.

There is also a bar on the number of advisers that the prime minister can handpick. Article 93 of the Constitution explicitly states that the prime minister cannot appoint more than five aides.

However, there is no constitutional limit to the number of special assistants the premier can take on board.

Was the outgoing cabinet too large?

No. When former prime minister Imran Khan left office on April 10, he had a cabinet of 29 ministers, of which 25 were federal ministers and four ministers of state. This was much below the legal threshold of 49 members.

In addition, Khan had four advisers and 19 special assistants. 



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