TODAY, the first members of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s cabinet will be sworn in.
The cabinet is central to all governments’ aspirations in office, but Prime Minister Khan’s cabinet will have particular importance. A political veteran at this stage of his career, Mr Khan is a novice in the executive branch. Moreover, with the PTI forming provincial governments in KP and Punjab; partnering in the Balochistan government; and having an important opposition role in Sindh and dominating the National Assembly seats from Karachi, the PTI that Mr Khan leads will need a great deal of the prime minister’s time and attention.
Finally, in his address to the nation on Sunday, Prime Minister Khan has laid out an ambitious governance and reforms agenda; only an empowered and capable federal cabinet will be able to deliver what Mr Khan has demanded. It is, therefore, disappointing that Mr Khan has selected among his first cabinet members a number of individuals who represent status quo.
The thin majority by which Mr Khan was elected prime minister in the National Assembly on Friday hinted at the difficulties the PTI has faced in forming a federal government. The sheer number of members from parties other than the PTI in the first cabinet batch indicates that good governance will be difficult to deliver. Coalition allies handed plum cabinet posts are not usually known for investing a great deal in the lead party’s governance agenda. The PTI has a further, intra-party division to contend with: the so-called electables and individuals mired in power politics that the PTI has attracted in recent years dominate the front lines of the party and few young or core PTI members have found themselves elevated to positions of real executive strength.
Perhaps Mr Khan believes that the driver of change will be himself and the Prime Minister’s Office he now occupies, and therefore compromises in cabinet selection are not an important matter. But the over-centralisation of power is a problem itself and quickly leads to governance gridlock, arbitrary decision-making and nepotism.
Also surprising is Prime Minister Khan’s decision to retain the interior portfolio for at least the time being.
The interior ministry is a vast portfolio that is not only critical to the maintenance of law and order in the country, but to which vital public service organisations such as Nadra and the passports department report. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was widely and persistently criticised for refusing to instal a foreign minister or defence minister for much of his last term and the critics were right.
Efficiency in government suffers and decision-making is mired in confusion when important ministries are left without full-time ministers. Prime Minister Khan appears to be aware that the first few months in office will be critical to the public’s perception of the PTI as a national governing party. The early stages of a government are also when political capital can be expended in pursuit of its agenda.
Mr Khan can and should choose more boldly and imaginatively than he has so far. It is hoped that the federal cabinet will soon have more members who reflect the politics and values that Mr Khan claims the PTI will represent in government.
Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2018