PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan has reshuffled his cabinet yet again in what is obviously another attempt to shore up his government’s performance. It is of course the prime minister’s prerogative to bring in new people in the cabinet, and rotate the existing ones if he feels they are not performing, but changes with such frequency in key ministries should also be a cause for concern. Finance is arguably the most important ministry in the federal government and fixing the economy that the PTI claims was ‘broken’ when it inherited it in 2018, means that the new government should have had the clarity to pursue a consistent line of policy. Four finance ministers in less than three years gives the impression that the PTI government continues to experiment with a solution.
What compounds this confusion is the fact that the government has not bothered to explain why the previous finance ministers were removed. Asad Umar was the ‘economy czar’ of the PTI during the opposition years and it was his economic worldview and policy prescription that constituted the PTI’s agenda. Why was he then removed as finance minister within a relatively short period? An explanation by the PTI leadership would have at least made it clear what his mistake was and how the party intended to correct that mistake. Without any such elaboration, he was put to pasture and Hafeez Shaikh, a technocrat with no links to the PTI, and no contribution to the party’s policy planning, was inducted. When Mr Sheikh was fired, again there was no explanation given other than a feeble one that he had failed to control inflation. If any explanation has come about where the PTI’s economic performance has gone awry, it has in fact come from Shaukat Tarin, the new finance minister. In an interview earlier this month, he had stated that PTI had pursued a flawed policy since it came to power. In other words, Mr Tarin indicted his two predecessors.
Similarly, repeated ministerial changes in important ministries like power, information and economic affairs suggest that the PTI leadership is still unsure of what it really wants to achieve in terms of specific deliverables. Fawad Chaudhry, for instance, was delivering a decent performance as the information minister in the early days of the PTI government. No explanation was given as to why he was removed in haste. Neither has the government cared to explain why he has been brought back as the information minister once again. Such impetuous decision-making makes for bad optics and accentuates the perception that the PTI leadership remains unsure of itself even at this late stage in its five-year term. This also sends ambiguous signals to the bureaucracy that is supposed to implement the larger agenda of the government. The PTI government needs to settle down to a consistent way of governing. It is about time.
Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2021