Iran will merge its oil and energy ministries, one of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's deputies told the state broadcaster on Wednesday, signalling a shake-up of the department in charge of the world's fifth-biggest crude exports.
"According to what the cabinet approved today, the oil and energy ministries and labour and social welfare ministries will be merged," Vice-President Lotfollah Foruzandeh was quoted as saying by IRIB.
The announcement is part of a plan to slim down the number of ministries to 17 from 21, which the government says will produce a more streamlined, efficient administration.
But making major changes to the oil ministry is a move unlikely to be met with universal approval.
The Oil Ministry handles all aspects of the oil and gas industry, including direct control of production and the National Iranian Oil Company, which sells Iran's fossil fuels around the world. The Energy Ministry oversees the national electricity and water networks.
Oil Minister Massoud Mirkazemi said as recently as April 19 that "no decision has been made to merge the oil and energy ministries", and on Wednesday one of his deputies expressed doubts about the planned merger.
"No one has asked our opinion (about the merger), and if they ask us we will definitely present the oil ministry's expert opinion," Deputy Oil Minister Mohsen Khojasteh-Mehr said in an interview with the semi-official Fars news agency.
"Details of this merger should be made clear, so that we can give accurate comments on it."
No announcement was made over who will be in charge of the merged entity. A member of parliament's presiding board said the legislature would have to approve the remit of any new ministry.
"The government will (then) announce a new minister, and parliament will decide (to approve him or not)," Hossein Sobhaninia told Fars.
Getting approval from parliament, which has defied Ahmadinejad's authority in recent months, might not be a simple task. In February it dismissed his transport minister, and in March the position of Energy Minister Majid Namjou was saved by just one vote.
The hard-line president has often angered members of parliament, which is also dominated by conservatives, who accuse him of being slow to submit national budgets for their scrutiny and failing to disburse funds for projects such as the expansion of Tehran's metro.
Rifts among the conservative elite that rules Iran have also emerged within Ahmadinejad's own cabinet. The president skipped two cabinet meetings after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vetoed his plan to sack his Intelligence Ministry, which foreign analysts speculated was a power struggle at the very top of Iranian politics.