FeaturedNationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 07

Technocratic setup: Wishful thinking?

Debate has begun in Pakistan about a technocratic government in Pakistan for three or four years to remove flaws in the economy and governance and put the country on the path to sustained growth. It is premature to discuss the viability of a technocracy and whether the Constitution of Pakistan permits it, the debate itself shows the fact that the current political system has failed to address national issues and a need is being felt to change the system.

It is a fact that the present system has not proved to be much effective. It was interrupted many times in the past. The result is that politicians and people have not matured. The present system also focuses more on constituency politics than wider public and national issues. Then, every government faces blackmail from its allies and the opposition. The last PTI government of Prime Minister Imran Khan faced the blackmail of its allies and the opposition in the entire tenure. The coalition government is also facing the same situation at the hands of its allies, which are far more than that of the PTI.

Recently, PTI Chairman Imran Khan confirmed that discussions were underway in the government for bringing in a technocrat setup. He feared that he did not see fresh elections anytime soon. Earlier, former FBR Chairman Shabbar Zaidi claimed that talks were being held for the installation of a caretaker government comprising experts that could replace the existing coalition setup to cope with the current economic turmoil. PTI leader Asad Qaiser also admitted that a proposal was “informally” discussed with him by members of the federal government. “It was an informal chat in which some people in the government floated the idea of a technocrat government,” he told a news channel.

A heated debate has once again started in the mainstream and social media about the pros and cons of the technocratic setup. Though the government has rubbished the idea and termed it fake news, yet there is a realization among the common people that the current parliamentary system has failed to address their issues. In the PTI rule, debate had started in the country about the presidential government. The opposition claimed the then Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government was behind the campaign after it failed to address public issues.

It is a fact that the present system has not evolved according to the needs of modern times. Flaws exist in the justice system, bureaucracy, health, education and all other institutions and departments of the country. A presidential system could be wishful thinking of every ruler in Pakistan, who has to face the blackmailing of his allies and legislators of his own party. He has to fulfill the demands of his allies and own party legislators whenever he needs their help to legislate in the National Assembly. Every prime minister would love to head a presidential system, where he will be free of all pressures.

In a newspaper article, 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, he recounts, 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 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.”

Some say Pakistan has already experimented technocracies in General Musharraf and Prime Minister Imran Khan’s governments, when a large number of technocrats had been assigned important portfolios. It is clear that the present system has failed to deliver. Critics says our politicians and voters are still not mature enough for the parliamentary form of government. However, there is no provision for the presidential system or a technocratic setup in the Constitution. It is better that all institutions are reformed instead of experimenting with the system once again.