With the induction of Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh as adviser to Prime Minister Imran Khan on Finance, Revenue and Economic Affairs, the number of technocrats in the cabinet has risen to over 12. It has triggered a debate in the country whether Pakistan has become a technocracy or heading to a presidential system.
After a recent reshuffle in the cabinet, at least 12 unelected representatives are part of the 47-member cabinet of Prime Minister Imran Khan. They include Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, the finance adviser, Firdous Ashiq Awan, the special assistant on information and broadcasting, while Health Minister Amir Kiyani and Petroleum Minister Ghulam Sarwar have also been replaced by technocrats Dr Zafarullah and Nadeem Babar respectively. Other unelected advisers include Malik Amin Aslam, Abdul Razak Dawood, Shahzad Arbab, Dr Ishrat Hussain, Zulfi Bukhari, Shahzad Syed Qasim and Usman Dar.
Critics say the induction of so many unelected advisers and special assistants in the cabinet shows Prime Minister Imran Khan’s lack of trust in the abilities of MNAs and senators of his own party. They lament that most important ministries have been assigned to people, who are not answerable to the parliament. They were also shocked at the reshuffle of only elected representatives as none of the unelected advisers and special assistants was sacked or given a new role. In this way, the government has introduced a system which is a mixture of technocracy and the presidential system, they argue.
The opposition parties have also expressed serious concerns over the inclusion of former ministers of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) governments in the federal cabinet. They fear they could be used as approvers against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, ex-President Asif Ali Zardari and other opposition leaders in cases against them. According to the opposition parties, the PTI government has completely failed and Prime Minister Imran Khan should quit the government to pave the way for new elections in the country. PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) head Maulana Fazlur Rehman have agreed to launch an anti-government campaign after Ramazan.
Senior PPP leader Khursheed Shah said Prime Minister Imran Khan, while inducting Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh as his adviser, had accepted the PPP policy. He said elected people were hurt when unelected people were included in the cabinet. However, he failed to mention that Abdul Hafeez Sheikh was also a cabinet minister of former President General Pervez Musharraf, who was the finance minister in the PPP government. His appointment was justified in the PPP government, even though he was not an elected member of the parliament, but it hurt the opposition when he appointed a minister by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The opposition also suspects the government is attempting to introduce the presidential system of government in the country. Articles are appearing in the newspapers in favour of the system. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Shah Farman said if a referendum was held, he would cast his vote in favour of the presidential system. Hamza Ali Abbasi, an actor close to the PTI party, tweeted: “I am beginning to feel that Pakistan needs the presidential system to get rid of the powerful MNA/MPA (Members of the National and Provincial Assemblies) influence, abolition of large provinces and administrative divisions made into smaller provinces with powerful/empowered directly elected local body governments.” It led to a debate on the presidential system in Pakistan, from social networks to the mainstream media.
In an article, former Federal Minister for Science and Technology Dr Attaur Rehman wrote: “According to a hand-written note in his diary, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah noted in 1947 that the British parliamentary system has not worked well anywhere except in Britain and that a presidential system is more suitable. I have a copy of that note and I have had the handwriting verified through the National Defence University as being genuine. Mohammed Ali Jinnah did not live long enough to bring about this change, and after Liaquat Ali Khan’s assassination we did not have the quality of leadership needed to think deeply into the problems of the country and how to address them. The refusal to recognise the rights of the Bengalis eventually led to the break-up of the country, and today we find ourselves in a very serious economic crisis with our former finance minister an under-trial absconder, and our former prime minister removed from his position with trials for corruption underway against him.” Counting the advantages of the presidential system, he said, “It allows a better separation of the three major arms of governance, the legislative (parliament), the executive (ministries and other bodies) and the judiciary. Such a separation is not easily possible under a parliamentary system as it is the prime minister who is also the head of the executive and appoints the heads of key institutions including the police, FBR, FIA, SECP, and many other national institutions. It promotes cronyism and nepotism, and it is this overlap of functions that is responsible for the continued economic deterioration of the country.”
Another advantage of the presidential system is that ministers are not chosen from the parliament but the president can pick the best experts from every field. It means that the president can appoint a team of top specialists in the country as cabinet ministers and secretaries, eminent experts who would otherwise not be interested in fighting elections for a specific position. It also blocks the path for corrupt politicians who invest hundreds of millions to get elected to plunder billions once in power, he argues.
Advancing his argument against the parliamentary system, he says corrupt governments in the past have ensured that the justice system remains weak so that criminals are never punished. “As the judges have to rely on investigations and prosecutions carried out by the police and government agencies, the appointment of cronies as heads of institutions, like NAB, FIA, SECP, FBR, State Bank etc, often in connivance with the opposition parties, has contributed to the rot. The massive accumulation of foreign debt that rose from $33 billion to $84 billion since 2004 has brought the country to its knees. Most of the money taken was piled in foreign bank accounts of those in power while the IMF and others looked the other way praising Pakistan for its economic performance. If “democracy” means loot and plunder by those in power while the poor get poorer and the justice system is stifled by improper prosecution and investigation, then I would have none of it.”
The presidential system could be wishful thinking of Prime Minister Imran Khan, who finds it difficult to meet the demands of his coalition partners and even his own party members. However, it is not possible in the present situation. The presidential system has its own pitfalls. The government should attempt to resolve national issues in the present system, instead of finding faults in it.