Where’s the government?

July 02, 2020

Following the interview by a senior member of the federal cabinet given to a foreign media channel, there has been increasing debate over the state of governance in the country. Fawad...

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Following the interview by a senior member of the federal cabinet given to a foreign media channel, there has been increasing debate over the state of governance in the country. Fawad Chaudhry’s candid remarks seemed to have surprisingly received an unexpected amount of agreement from within the government itself.

Chaudhry’s assertion that the bureaucracy was effectively running the government, that things were not running particularly well and that the government had limited time to function raised questions about who was then actually giving orders or determining how long the government had. In normal circumstances of course, an elected government has five years. The two which the PTI has served so far have not gone especially well. This analysis has been backed not only by the opposition, which would be expected, but also by MNAs from the PTI itself, notably those from southern Punjab. They have raised questions about the high price of wheat in the country at a time when warehouses are well stocked and offered reminders that PTI members had once offered to ensure a bag of atta cost no more than Rs800. Today, it costs well over Rs12,000.

The sugar mafia scandal has also rocked the government, and to an even greater extent the recent evidence that it has fallen victim to the oil mafia with the prices of petroleum products suddenly soaring, even before the 1st of July, the usual time when new rates are set. When prices had been dropped as a response to a decline in international markets, the prime minister had widely publicized the significant decline, only to find days later that petrol had vanished from markets as hoarders stepped in.

This is not a country that is easy to run. But we need to know if those who are running its affairs really know what they are attempting to do. In a rare appearance in the National Assembly, Prime Minister Imran, who has generally chosen to stay away from the House despite his previous claims, launched into a long address that raised questions about the government’s priorities and precisely where its focus lay. Imran spoke about the Covid-19 policy of the government being perfectly cohesive, of data being accurate, stated the US had attacked Pakistan in ‘martyring’ Osama bin Laden in 2011, went back further into history by speaking of the defeat of the Byzantine Empire by the ‘Madina ki riyasat’, said that he had told the world that Indian PM Narendra Modi was fascist, and then went into minor government schemes such as one focusing on equality in education and shelter for all. From this address, we gained very little knowledge about what direction the nation was moving in. We just hope that the prime minister, who is usually able to speak fluently and with passion, is clearer than his speech would imply.

One of the problems being pointed out by PTI ministers and members is the lack of unity within the government itself. The number of advisers who have not been elected but who occupy the key spots on the PM’s team has also been brought up again and again. In the meanwhile, elected MNAs from the PTI complain that access to the PM is almost impossible for them to maintain, that there have been very few meetings of the parliamentary party and some have complained about the Ehsaas distribution process. There has already been a demand from international agencies that local governments be utilized to distribute funds intended to help those who have suffered from the economic meltdown caused by Covid-19.

How are the poor being helped? The continuation of the virus in the country, with Pakistan now standing at 12th place on the list of nations with the highest number of Covid cases and only a very slight fall in the curve discernible means that it will take longer for the economy to recover and people regain jobs they have lost. The ‘smart’ lockdown seen in Islamabad, Karachi, Peshawar, Lahore and other cities have been questioned by experts. In Lahore, the lockdowns remained erratic, with citizens uncertain which areas were to be closed on what day and even more confused about how this would help the situation. Most were able to make their way across the city with its many back ways and side roads through one means or the other.

It is understood the possibility of similar mechanisms had been discussed in the UK but abandoned because town officials realized that unless entire cities and towns were shut down, people would be able to make contact with each other and the principle of social distancing would go quite literally out onto the street.

There are multiple other problems. Giant entities like PIA will somehow need to be rebuilt or restructured after the finding that 30 percent of its pilots are flying planes on licences that are authentic, in the sense that they had been duly issued and stamped and signed by CAA officials, but have not been rightfully earned by the pilots to whom they were given. This also means that in the context of the exams, those that truly deserved a place as a pilot were very possibly deprived of a job as one.

Similar issues plague other organisations. We do not see a team working together. Unlike the sometimes-brilliant cricket captain that Imran was in his youth, he seems unable to manage his cabinet, is reportedly unwilling to take advice from those more politically experienced than he is himself and does not appear to have spent the past 22 years very well in deciding what would be best for Pakistan. Of course, we value his honesty, but question the manner in which he has attempted to combat corruption. Like London Bridge, too much seems to be falling down. We can only hope it will be possible to salvage the pieces and put them together before the structure of government collapses entirely.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.

Email: kamilahyathotmail.com

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