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November 9, 2019

Targets for ministers


November 9, 2019

It is a good sign that PM Imran Khan has been regularly holding his federal cabinet meetings. Managing a country of around 220m people is an onerous task and requires the top office bearers to be diligent and vigilant to fulfil their duties. In the latest cabinet meeting held on Nov 5, the PM is reported to have given his minsters three-month targets with an assurance that he would himself monitor their progress. Imran Khan also held separate meetings with federal secretaries to get updates from them and listen to their own versions of the progress in the various ministries under their control. This is a good development as sometimes the bureaucracy does not feel comfortable in the presence of ministers; and if they have some disagreements or problems with their respective minsters, there is no forum for them to voice their concerns. So, once in a while meeting with the federal secretaries separately is not a bad idea at all.

A more important question here is about the roadmaps that the PM is reported to have given to his ministers. According to Special Assistant to the PM on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, the PM gave a roadmap to various departments and ministries for achievement of targets in the next three months. The ‘roadmap’ is part of a relatively new jargon in public management, which usually is nothing but a set of targets with timelines aligned to each target with milestones. International donor agencies love this jargon and at times impose it as a more impressive review mechanism, though most donor-funded projects fail to achieve their targets despite repeated change in terminology.

One reason for this is too much emphasis on the optics of the roadmap on presentation slide, which once used to be on paper. So, in most cases it is paperless, and in many cases fruitless too. The PM needs to take at least two more steps to make the whole ‘roadmap’ exercise worthwhile: one, the roadmaps should be made public and transparent, so that there is an accountability mechanism in place. Two, the policies behind these roadmaps – if there are any – should also be in the public domain. We have seen that the policy work under the PTI government is lagging behind and at least four major federal ministries – the ministries of defence, finance, foreign affairs, and interior – have not delivered any comprehensive policy framework that is different from the previous ones. For a government that has come to power with a promise of radical change, the policy front has been disappointing to say the least.

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