Considering that the next elections will be held mid-May, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has 270 days to make things happen. He doesn’t have a long time at his disposal, but is long enough for him to make a difference.
His performance and delivery in the days ahead of him will largely be determined by how much he is able to isolate state governance from his party’s vote politics. It is a sensitive balance between party loyalty and state responsibility. But, it is inevitable for the new prime minister to establish his credentials as a different kind of politician. He could start-off by doing some good for the public.
The prime issue today is state governance, and it has never been so acute before. No other factor has harmed governance in Pakistan more in its entire history of 70 years, and that issue is nepotism and cronyism, driven by vested interests, political loyalties and vote politics, not to mention family linkages. This evil over the years has defeated merit and talent in conducting the affairs of the government. It has prevailed in all governments in various degrees. From political affiliations to loyalties, preferences have won against merit.
During military regimes, political affiliations have replaced with merit, but only to some extent. This small change is reflected in higher rate of economic growth during military setups as against political set-ups.
Prime Minister Abbasi appears to be taking some key decisions to deliver in the days ahead. Sadly, the one thing appearing to be out of his focus is the need to replace cronyism with merit and talent in state governance. He may well start by bringing in changes in management in public-sector business enterprises especially those which are loss-making. Enterprises such as PIA, the Steel Mills, the power utilities. These, and many more of them, are for years carving out chunks of hard-earned state revenue to sustain their existence as a burden on the national economy. The PM needs to review and replace the whole change of command.
Business as usual and the prevalent state of mindset have not worked in the last four years and will not work in the remaining tenure of the present government either. The need is a talent and merit-based new team of management and an out-of-box approach to turn around the enterprises in the public sector. This objective can be achieved in the next 270 days. This may well stand out as PM Abbasi’s singular best achievement for a period extending beyond the present tenure of the government in inculcating good governance in his short stint of leading the nation.
The PML-N government had pledged to the nation that it would restructure and privatize loss-making public enterprises. Unfortunately, however, it did neither.
PM Abbasi has rightly opted to lead from the front and confront the challenges facing the nation head on. He took over as the Chairman of the Economic Co-ordination Committee (ECC), the government’s highest decision-making body for economic policies. While recognizing energy as key to the economic survival of the country he founded Ministry of Energy through the merger of Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources and the Ministry of Water and Power to accelerate construction of the power infrastructure so essential for economic growth of the nation. This merger has still got to pass through many stages of legal and political jig saw. Another good step is that the statistical division of Pakistan has been separated from the Ministry of Finance to inject credibility into the economic data.
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s cabinet comprises 58 members, which is unprecedented. PM is said to have justified this large cabinet on the plea that the issues confronting the nation are so multifarious, complex and humongous that necessitate a bigger team for efficient management. However, in contrast to the official claim of PM’s determination to rejuvenate government with a focus on the most vital areas, the mere structural changes with less than a year to go before elections smack of political expediency. This public perception puts even a greater responsibility on the PM to deliver after having invested public money in raising his team.
The country today struggles with a host of political, economic, social and security challenges and a dilapidated structure of governance. Although PM Abbasi is confronted with grave challenges, he enjoys a fair chance to prove his metal.
(The writer is former President Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce & Industry)