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Pakistani PM sacks two ministers over Haj scam

December 14, 2010 16:21 IST
Despite pressure not to act against them, Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Tuesday sacked two federal ministers after they engaged in an unseemly public spat over alleged corruption in the hiring of accommodation for Pakistani pilgrims for this year's Haj.

The move came against the backdrop of a suo moto case initiated by Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry after he received several complaints about irregularities in the renting of accommodation for Pakistani pilgrims in Saudi Arabia. An official statement issued by the prime minister's office said Gilani had removed Science and Technology Minister Azam Swati and Religious Affairs Minister Hamid Saeed Kazmi from their portfolios. The statement did not give any reason for their sacking.

Sources told PTI that the two ministers had been sacked after they failed to heed Gilani's directive not to trade charges in public over the Haj scam. Swati, who belongs to the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party headed by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, appeared in the SC on Monday to provide what he claimed was evidence of Kazmi's alleged involvement in corruption in the management of Haj affairs.

The sources said Gilani had sacked both ministers despite pressure from within his Pakistan People's Party headed by President Asif Ali Zardari and the JUI not to remove them. Kazmi is a senior leader of the PPP.

Over the past few weeks, the two ministers had been engaged in a war of words despite being warned by Gilani last month to refrain from making statements against each other. At the same time, Religious Affairs Secretary Agha Sarwar Raza Qazilbash was removed from his post and asked to report to the establishment division.

Saeed Khan was appointed to the post in place of Qazilbash. This development too was related to the Haj scam, the sources said. The Haj scam has become a major embarrassment for the PPP, which has been criticised by political parties like the opposition PML-N and religious hardliners for not sparing even pilgrims.

The scandal became public at a time when the PPP-led government is grappling with charges of corruption at all levels. Media reports have suggested that tour operators paid millions of rupees as kickbacks in the Haj scam. The official statement said Labour Minister Syed Khursheed Shah had been given the religious affairs portfolio. Gilani also gave Health Minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin the additional responsibility of the defence production portfolio, which has been vacant after Abdul Qayyum Jatoi was forced to resign in September for criticising the army and the judiciary. Gilani also gave Education Minister Sardar Assef Ahmed Ali the additional responsibility of the information technology portfolio.
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