ON Tuesday, Prime Minister Imran Khan dropped some truth bombs that will no doubt be remembered by both his voters and political rivals for days to come. Mr Khan spoke at an event where he invited his cabinet to sign a ‘performance agreement’ for the coming year, with the aim that his ministers must deliver in the period before the next election.

Mr Khan urged his ministers to deliver on key promises, as “the time for performance has arrived”. He also admitted that, before he assumed office, he had had no time to prepare and that his first three months were spent on understanding the state of affairs in the country. “We no longer have an excuse that we’re new and are learning because most of us came into power for the first time,” he added. Though no doubt well intentioned, this admission by a sitting prime minister halfway through his term is quite disturbing.

For the past two years, the country has faced multiple crises. From an economy in a downward spiral and a near war with India to the Covid-19 pandemic and the wheat, sugar and power crises, the challenges have had real consequences for millions of people. For the prime minister to admit that his administration was getting acquainted with governing — against the backdrop of at least four cabinet reshuffles with one as recent as this month — is an indictment of the leadership’s grip on the country’s affairs.

When lives and livelihoods are at stake, should a government be allowed more than a few weeks of adjustment before taking on the challenges? The time for the current government to start performing should have been very soon after taking power in August 2018. Successive governments blame past dispensations for the mess they have inherited. This administration is no exception, with the prime minister heaping blame on the 18th Amendment. Again, the reality is that the scope of the powers of the centre are not new concepts and should not catch an incoming head of government or his team by surprise. In fact, it could be asked why no performance record was signed in the year the government was elected to power.

Also, government leaders would do well to go into the new year reflecting on their relationship with the opposition. There is no doubt that the latter have made governing more difficult for the current rulers but the challenge might have been less intimidating had the government built less acrimonious connections with the opposition. It is also high time that disputes within the PTI, which have so often spilled into the public domain, were addressed by the prime minister. Public admission of the government’s teething problems are not going to inspire confidence, but stepping up to the challenge and turning in a good performance might do the trick.

Published in Dawn, December 24th, 2020

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