FeaturedNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 15

Assessing PTI’s governance quality

As the opposition parties are trying to dislodge the government of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) by bringing in a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan in the National Assembly despite rifts in their ranks, the quality of governance of the federal government leaves a lot to be desired. The biggest problem today in Pakistan is not a change of the government but how to improve the quality of governance.

Insofar as the performance of the PTI government in the last three and a half years is concerned, it has been nearly pathetic. PM Imran Khan and his cabinet members seem to be in self-deception that apart from inflation the quality of governance, if not excellent, has at least been “good.” If they are not in self-deception they are feigning that the governance is quite good. In either case, Pakistan and Pakistanis are bearing the brunt. The rate of inflation in the country at this point has reached not only double figures but is touching 14 percent which is something unprecedented. When the PTI government came to power on August 18, 2018, the rate of inflation after the five-year rule of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) war around four percent, well under the double-digit benchmark. It does not mean that the management of the economy by the PML-N government was great, rather it was equally pathetic. However, the strategy which the PML-N government had adopted, particularly by its disgraced financial wizard, Ishaq Dar, was to artificially control the prices of essential commodities, whether staple food items or petroleum products. It obviously led to the accumulation of mammoth public debt, both domestic and foreign. However, it was up to the PTI government to manage the situation. PM Imran Khan had come to power with great confidence that he would be able to put the economy on the right track. But with no prior experience of governance himself or by most of his cabinet members, the self-confidence soon shattered. Worst came when he continued to experiment with policies and reshuffled ministers of key departments frequently, in particular the finance minister.

In the beginning, the finance ministry was handed over to what PM Imran Khan believed to be his financial and economic wizard, Asad Umar. However, he was not allowed to serve in the position for long. Then former World Bank official and finance minister, Dr. Hafeez Sheikh, was handed over the finance ministry. He was lavishly praised by the Prime Minister but when powerful quarters became unhappy with his performance, accusing him of giving in to “tough” demands of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), PM Imran Khan wasted no time in replacing him. The next came in Shaukat Tareen, the time-tested finance minister of Pakistan. There have been several months that Tareen is there but he could not arrest the downfall of the economy, official claims notwithstanding.

When one has to assess the quality of governance  by a particular governmental setup in place for three areas, according to experts, political governance, economic governance and administrative governance are examined. While economic governance has already been discussed, the record of PTI governance in other two key areas of governance has not been satisfactory. In the arena of political governance, the PTI government has not been able to introduce any revolutionary lawmaking or bring key amendments to the Constitution, like the 18th Constitutional Amendment, through which the Concurrent Legislative List of the Constitution had been abolished and devolved to the federating units. Such amendments or publicly beneficial legislation could only be made if a government has an absolute majority in both chambers of parliament or if its relationship with the opposition parties is good or at least workable. The PTI government’s ties with the opposition parties have never been good. This has been because of the entire focus of PM Imran Khan on punishing the opposition parties and politicians for their alleged corruption. While the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has been unsuccessfully working to punish the past rulers, the PTI government could do nothing to help it in this regard. Despite it, the entire focus of the federal government on punishing the Sharifs and Bhutto-Zardaris has been meaningless. This focus has been sapping the energies of the government and its machinery to work for the benefit of the common Pakistanis. Consequently, the financial and social situation of the citizens has become worse.

In the realm of political governance, the PTI as a major coalition partner could not even keep good relations with its allies. Resultantly, all its coalition partners, including the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), Muttahida Qaumi Movement and Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), have become estranged with it to varying degrees. This has really affected the performance of the government.

The worst part of the political governance of the PTI has been that it in addition to its failure in keeping working relations with the opposition and good ties with the coalition partners, it even could not keep discipline within its own ranks. The obvious example is the biggest benefactor of PM Imran Khan and once his close aide, Jehangir Khan Tareer. The former confidante of PM Imran Khan, Tareen, leads a group in the PTI, whose members have disapproved of the policies and modus operandi of the federal government and its government in the Punjab. Consequently, the Tareen group has gathered steam in the last one year and now the fate of the PTI government is in the hands of Tareen, whose treatment by PM Imran Khan’s government, especially his implication in the sugar scam, has given an impression that the Prime Minister betrays everyone. On his part, PM Imran Khan has been of the stand that whosoever has been involved in financial corruption, even his closest men and women, would not be spared. However, the problem has been that his government could not punish the wrongdoers then what good this stand has been for is anybody’s guess.

In the context of administrative governance, what has appeared is that civilian bureaucrats have been calling the shots. This dominance of the civilian bureaucracy in the government affairs, despite being meant to implement public policies, has been because of the incompetence and inexperience of the ministers and the resultant confusion. It is said that PM Imran Khan trusts his Principal Secretary Azam Khan more than his party leaders or ministers. A proof of this is that while several ministers were removed from their departments or given other portfolios, Azam Khan has remained there without any worthy performance. This again transpires that the governance apparatus of the PTI has been dependent on the civilian bureaucracy rather than a political support base.

With this kind of governance, the PTI cannot expect to win another term, claims by PM Imran Khan and his ministers to the contrary notwithstanding. In fact, no future government, whether that of the PML-N, PPP or any combination of other parties, would be able to clean the Augean stables and put the country on the right track. Having a cursory look at the above mentioned factors and an analysis would reveal that there has been incompetence, inexperience and misplace focus by the PTI government but there is also a problem with the political system. Rather, the first is because of the inappropriateness of the political system. With such systemic constraints in which a government with a lean majority and which is dependent upon always demanding coalition partners cannot deliver. The problems of Pakistan are such that it needs to change its political system.