SUDDENLY, the debate on government performance seems to be all over the place. On second thoughts, it may not be so sudden. The incumbent government is about to complete its two years and that is usually the time when people stop giving any allowance for the newness of the government and expect solid delivery on the promises made by the ruling party.
Performance has been the cornerstone of Imran Khan’s campaign for prime ministership. He gave special attention to the preparation of his party’s election manifesto and explained in detail its various aspects at a well-attended seminar in Islamabad at the start of the election campaign. He then came up with another instrument, not used by any other political party of Pakistan earlier, of capsuling the initial party plans in ‘Imran Khan’s first 100 Days Agenda’ and launched it with a lot of fanfare.
Once in power, a special cell in the Prime Minister’s Office was created to monitor the progress on the implementation of the 100 Days Agenda and to periodically place the findings online for all to see. A party enthusiast even established a ‘Khan Meter’ to independently monitor the progress on social media. A debate on the PTI government’s performance in the first 100 days was promoted by the party itself by presenting a report at a media event despite the fact that the government did not have any landmark achievement to show except for the formation of over 50 task forces and committees to do preparatory work on its programme.
Sadly, the PTI and the government it heads have gradually moved away from publicly reporting their performance. Occasional media reports indicate that Prime Minister Imran Khan seeks periodic performance reports from his ministers, but there is hardly any public evidence that such reports are presented or discussed. The government has shared no such report or even its sanitised version with the people.
The PTI and the government it heads have gradually moved away from publicly reporting their performance.
The most recent performance debate about the PTI government was triggered by none other than a vocal member of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s cabinet, Fawad Chaudhry, who until about a year ago was the official spokesperson for the government of Pakistan and now holds the portfolio of science and technology in the federal cabinet. In an interview with senior journalist Sohail Warraich on VOA Urdu, Fawad Chaudhry made a number of interesting and candid points about the working, weaknesses, setbacks and failures of his party’s government over the past two years.
Unlike many other politicians disgruntled with their respective parties, Fawad Chaudhry’s talk was not the outburst of a desperate person. Instead, it was more of a sober introspection and dispassionate analysis, which makes his messages even more valuable and worthy of serious attention both within the party and outside. In a political culture where the top leader of the party is sacrosanct, Chaudhry’s open criticism of Imran Khan’s selection of unelected cabinet-level team members and style of governance was remarkable. Equally remarkable was the fact that although the prime minister reportedly conveyed his displeasure, Chaudhry continues to hold his cabinet position. The contents of the interview reportedly also became the subject of a passionate discussion at a cabinet meeting where opinions were fairly divided. This perceived tolerance and willingness to accept dissent may be taken as a welcome sign of budding internal democracy within political parties although parties need to go a long way to become truly democratic institutions from within.
Chaudhry wholeheartedly acknowledged that the PTI government had not been able to meet the lofty expectations of the people who had voted for the party to overhaul the entire system and not to run a ‘routine’ government. He attributed this lack of performance to infighting among senior party leaders but, even more importantly, blamed this on the weak team picked by the prime minister. He did not mince his words when he said that the implementation of the party programme depended on the quality of human resource deployed for this purpose and the leadership chose weak people for key positions.
It was a shocking observation, but he was probably spot on when he blamed Imran Khan for appointing pliant people in the provinces in the hope that they would willingly take dictation from him. The domination of unelected advisers and special assistants over elected ministers in the cabinet also drew his criticism; he felt that giving a decision-making role to unelected persons was a negation of the parliamentary system. He seemed to agree with the interviewer that the PTI had also failed to strengthen party structures and nurture a second-tier leadership.
Interestingly, he said that the prime minister too was concerned about the government’s performance and he had given five and a half months to the ministers to improve their performance, otherwise the government would lose the initiative for the change promised by Imran Khan.
Chaudhry’s candid interview raised a storm of controversies both within the ruling party and among the general public. One can disagree with some aspects of his analysis but it has made a significant contribution towards promoting the culture of assessing and debating the performance of the ruling party and the provincial and federal governments.
Political parties almost cease to exist as an effective separate entity after winning elections and forming a government; instead, parties generally become a secondary appendix to governments. The PTI, PPP and BAP, the political parties which are leading the federal and provincial governments in Pakistan at present, should develop and make use of party structures to freely debate and discuss the government performance periodically. Election manifestos, which generally gather dust after parties come to power, should be critically reviewed every year, if not more frequently, to gauge progress on implementation. If political parties adopt a culture of structured self-appraisal, it will spare them the embarrassment of unplanned public disclosures and prepare them better to face the electorate.
The writer is president of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency.
Published in Dawn, July 5th, 2020