PM, not CM

Published April 17, 2022

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has declared that he intends to work at ‘Pakistan speed’ which is a reference to his famed ‘Punjab speed’, a term coined to describe his swift and efficient governance as chief minister of Punjab.

Since taking office, he has displayed signs that he means what he says. The PM has made Saturday a working day, changed office timings to 8 a.m., and earlier this week was inspecting the Metro project in Islamabad at 7 a.m.

Mr Sharif knows he has to compete with his own reputation and he does not have much time to do so. He also realises that his government needs to draw a sharp contrast with the previous one in terms of governance, performance and delivery.

If this translates into work on the ground, it can only be welcomed. However, a word of caution. There is a big difference between the job requirements of a chief minister and a prime minister.

Mr Sharif served as chief minister of Punjab for a decade and cemented his style of working in that capacity. Governance in the province is primarily project-based and requires efficient management skills in terms of concepts, timelines, budgets, executions and strict monitoring.

As chief minister, Mr Sharif used the bureaucracy efficiently for these purposes, while sidelining his cabinet. He was a one-man show and ensured he leveraged this to the maximum.

His penchant for working long hours and going deep into details ensured that the bureaucracy had to deliver on commitments and not indulge in needless delays and red tape. As prime minister though, he faces a different set of challenges. The federal government is more about policy than projects, and more about institutional coordination than one-man decision-making.

The PM will therefore need to place his speed, efficiency and penchant for hard work within a different framework. He will also need to adjust his working style in order to work through the cabinet instead of only through the bureaucracy.

In addition, he will need to curb his tendency to have his own way because at the centre he will be required to share policy space with the establishment and have important stakeholders such as autonomous bodies and donor agencies as well as the larger international community on his side.

As long as he retains his speed, focus and eye for detail while pivoting to a federal system, he should be able to deliver results.

Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2022

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