It was around 1:30pm. Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Rashed Khan Menon was briefing Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on the activities of the national flag carrier Biman after the weekly cabinet meeting at the PMO yesterday.
Till then, Menon had no clue that the PM had already decided to transfer him to the social welfare ministry. He learnt about it only after the cabinet secretary announced the decision about an hour later.
The PM's New Year surprise didn't end there. The portfolios of two other high-profile ministers and a state minister have been changed.
Menon, also president of the Workers Party, has been replaced by a little-known figure in national politics -- ATM Shahjahan Kamal -- president of Laxmipur district Awami League.
“Shahjahan Kamal, who became a lawmaker for the second time in 2014, expressed his interest to the PM to work at the civil aviation and tourism ministry following his inclusion in the council of ministers on Tuesday,” said an AL presidium member seeking anonymity.
Shahjahan is not a member of the parliamentary standing committee on civil aviation, added the presidium member.
The portfolio of Forest and Environment Minister Anwar Hossain Manju has been swapped with that of Water Resources Minister Anisul Islam Mahmud.
Besides, State Minister for Posts and Telecommunications Tarana Halim has been shifted to the information ministry.
But none of them had any knowledge about the coming changes in their portfolios, as the PM didn't tell them about the move to bring further dynamism to the administration, said sources in the cabinet and the AL.
Moreover, State Minister Nuruzzaman Ahmed, who was in charge of the social welfare ministry, will no longer be at the helm of the ministry, according to a gazette notification issued by the Cabinet Division yesterday.
Earlier on June 19 last year, Nuruzzaman, who held the portfolio of state minister for food, was made state minister for social welfare following the demise of Promode Mankin.
Narayon Chandra Chanda, who was promoted to a full minister on Tuesday, has been given the charge of the fisheries and livestock ministry where he had been a junior minister since the formation of the present cabinet in 2014.
On Tuesday, the PM made a sudden change in her council of ministers. She added three new faces to her cabinet, raising the total number of its members to 54.
Apart from them, there are five advisers and a special envoy to the PM with the status of full minister.
Of the three new faces inducted into the cabinet on Tuesday, IT expert Mustafa Jabbar has been made posts, telecommunications and information technology minister, and Rajbari-1 lawmaker Kazi Keramat Ali the state minister for technical and madrasa education.
Contacted, an AL presidium member said they were surprised and still in the dark about the reasons behind the changes in portfolios of the ministers and state ministers, especially that of Menon.
“Though Rashed Khan Menon was not doing very well [as the civil aviation and tourism minister], he was not doing that bad either. This is our evaluation. The man who replaced him is a new face without any experience in the sector. We don't know from what perspective, the honourable prime minister made the change,” said the presidium member wishing anonymity.
Commenting on Tarana, another AL presidium member said, “There were some questions about her performance... The reason behind the change in her portfolio was possibly that the PM might have wanted someone from the party to be at a vital ministry where the minister is not from our party.”
The ministries that saw sudden changes now have state ministers from the ruling AL.
Tarana has been relocated to the information ministry that is headed by Hasanul Haq Inu, president of the Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal.
State minister Muhammad Nazrul Islam, an AL lawmaker, is still with the water resources ministry where Anwar Hossain Manju of the Jatiya Party (Manju) is now a full minister.
Anisul Islam Mahmud from the Jatiya Party is now at the helm of the environment and forests ministry where Abdullah Al Islam Jakob from the AL is a deputy minister.
AL lawmaker Nuruzzaman Ahmed is the state minister at the social welfare ministry which is now headed by Menon.
In case of the education ministry, both the minister -- Nurul Islam Nahid – and state minister -- Keramat Ali -- are from the ruling AL.