INSPIRED as he is by his own struggles to balance academics with sporting pursuits while at school, the prime minister’s recognition of the top 10 best performing ministries might seem like a good idea, at first.
By his own admission, Imran Khan was always more interested in sports than curricular pursuits. All that changed when exam results started being announced in front of the entire student body, rather than just being handed out in envelopes. This, in the PM’s own words, was what drove him to do more homework.
What works in the schoolyard, however, won’t necessarily work in the secretariat. The PTI has always placed a premium on performance; delivering on promises was perhaps the main manifesto goal of this government. From the ‘100 Days Agenda’ to signing of performance agreements with ministers in 2020, there have been several efforts to track and evaluate the work being done by the men and women in charge. But the prime minister’s impulse to do everything publicly — noble though his intentions may be — seem to have the opposite effect from the one that was desired.
Recall that in May 2021, Mr Khan gave his ambassadors a dressing down, in full public view. At the time, this paper had held: “While the prime minister’s censure of the poor performance of some of the missions is valid and must lead to remedial action, the manner in which the no-holds-barred criticism was publicised is quite bizarre.” We stick by those words.
The managerialisaton and marketisation of the public sector — to borrow a phrase from the UK civil service lexicon — is a noble aim to pursue, but perhaps the methodology can be better fleshed out. A performance review can be most effective if the feedback is bespoke and precise. While a pat on the back from one’s prime minister before a rapturous audience may do wonders for the individual ego, it isn’t the best way to provide constructive feedback.
In fact, it may produce contempt rather than encourage competition in the top team. We had a glimpse of that during Thursday’s ceremony too, when those not included in the top 10 failed to turn up for the event — something the PM noted in his speech. Although he chided his special assistant Arbab Shahzad for ‘leaking’ the names in advance, he could not have seriously expected stalwarts like Shah Mahmood Qureshi or Fawad Chaudhry to turn up to such a ceremony and not be lauded on stage.
Perhaps it is time to channel the Imran Khan of old; he can marshal his men and women like he would urge a strike bowler in the death overs; with a few whispered tactics, a firm pat on the back and the confidence that their leader stands behind them. That kind of inspiration could be just what this government needs.
Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2022