The PTI government has to take its governance performance to much higher levels in the remaining time of its five-year tenure, Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Tuesday, telling his ministers that "the time for performance has arrived."
He was addressing a special ceremony to sign 'Performance Agreements of the Federal Government for the Year 2020-21' in Islamabad attended by ministers and special assistants to the prime minister.
According to the Prime Minister's Office, federal ministers of various ministries signed performance agreements with the prime minister.
"We will put pressure on ourselves to take our governance performance to much higher levels in our remaining two-and-a-quarter years," the premier said.
"We no longer have an excuse that we're new and are learning because most of us came into power for the first time. The time for performance has arrived," he added.
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Terming the signing of performance agreements "a step in the right direction", Prime Minister Imran said the performance of each ministry will be evaluated based on the contracts and every ministry will put pressure on itself to meet its targets.
"After all, the public has to decide after five years whether we made their lives better or not; whether we fulfilled the promises made to them or not," he said, stressing that governance could not be delivered unless all ministries performed individually.
Noting that presidents and prime ministers in the United States and United Kingdom were given detailed briefings about all government departments before they took office, Prime Minister Imran said he virtually had no time to prepare before assuming office and the first three months were spent understanding the state of affairs. He said the system should be tweaked so the incoming government was briefed and given time to prepare for governance before it started functioning formally.
The premier said the devolution of power following the 18th Amendment had also created governance problems that needed to be rectified. Citing an example, he said food security fell within the federal government's domain but all the power had been delegated to provinces, with the effect that if one province refused to follow the Centre and devised its own policy, the resulting price differential of commodities like wheat distorted prices across the country.
"If wheat flour becomes expensive, everyone blames the Centre, but the Centre has no authority to end the price differential if one province does not release its wheat into the market," he elaborated. He said even though the area of environment was given to provinces, it should also stay at the federal level because all of the country's environment was one.
Among the government's current targets, the premier said he saw the power ministry as the biggest challenge for the country and his government, which he said sometimes "keeps me awake at night".
"The power sector is such a complex and complicated sector; there are so many different things that need to be rationalised and synchronised to provide people with affordable power and not add to the rising circular debt," he said.
He said although some factors concerning the power sector were in the government's control, others were not.
The premier named subsidies worth Rs2,500 billion as the second biggest challenge for his administration, noting that all countries provided subsidies to benefit the poor and to uplift their backward areas.
Mentioning wealth creation as the third test for the government, he said if exports were not increased, the issue of current account deficit would remain. The prime minister took this moment to praise the latest data which showed on Tuesday that Pakistan’s current account recorded a surplus for the fifth consecutive month in November, terming it a matter of "pride" for the government.
He emphasised the need to use subsidies for wealth creation, but said some subsidies needed to be targeted to benefit a select few, and not the rich and poor alike.
Prime Minister Imran said another "mountain" of burden on the government was of pensions, saying they were increasing in all government departments and nobody really planned for them. He told his adviser Dr Ishrat Husain, who was seated in the audience, that his pension scheme was awaited that could help make pensions less of a liability.
He said the government also needed to concentrate on agriculture, acknowledging that this area did not get enough focus. He noted that increasing productivity was important for improving food security and giving employment, saying the country could benefit greatly from cooperation with China for agriculture under CPEC.
"I have realised that until the system of our bureaucracy doesn't speed up, we will need to start dividing things into channels according to priority, which we will keep online. All grade A projects will be followed and there will be no obstacles in them. [...] So we will make channels so that top priority issues are fast-tracked, and if they stop we will penalise ministries," Prime Minister Imran said.
Returning to the export sector, he said the government will prioritise "everything that either brings in dollars or saves dollars in the country because as our economy grows, we fear that it will start putting pressure on our current account".