THE federal cabinet is set for expansion with four new members scheduled to be sworn in today. With the PTI-led federal government’s agenda for its first phase in office taking shape, the federal cabinet will be key to implementing Prime Minister Imran Khan’s vision and ideas. The first challenge for Mr Khan will be to maintain a streamlined cabinet in line with his campaign promises. The demands of coalition allies and party members who need to be politically accommodated tend to grow in office, and without a clear sense of direction and purpose, the federal cabinet can quickly become bloated. The practice of adding ministers but deciding their portfolios later is a slippery slope towards a needlessly large cabinet and old-fashioned patronage politics. The prime minister does have the political authority to insist on a relatively small team, but the Constitution permits a federal cabinet that is 11pc of the total membership of the National Assembly and the Senate. If the maximum cabinet size of nearly 50 ministers and advisers is to be avoided, now is the time for Mr Khan to assess which ministries, divisions and departments can be clubbed together and managed by a smaller setup.
Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect from a governance and reforms perspective of the prime minister’s cabinet so far is his decision to keep the interior ministry portfolio for himself. The appointment of a minister of state for interior, Shehryar Afridi, has eased some of the burden on the Prime Minister’s Office, but a full-time junior minister in one of the most important ministries in the cabinet is still an unsatisfactory state of affairs. Mr Khan has suggested that the reforms he wants to introduce in law enforcement across the country require the strongest of political backing and only his office can provide that. But the implementation of reforms, once finalised and unveiled, is as much about management as political will. The interior ministry is a vast bureaucracy that requires close supervision by a fully empowered minister. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif also erred in not appointing a full-time foreign minister for much of his last term because infighting and lack of direction quickly became a dominant feature in the Foreign Office. Good governance and sustainable reforms come from strengthening democratic institutions. The federal cabinet is the lynchpin of effective governance; Mr Khan should empower his cabinet to the full extent possible.
Published in Dawn, September 11th, 2018