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February 1, 2016

How to appoint a minister


February 1, 2016

We have heard many times that our country is passing through a ‘critical period’ in its history and that we should refrain from rocking the boat to make the situation more precarious.

This crisis has been continuing since the time I started reading newspapers and listening to the news – which is the late 1960s in my case. This was also the period that the nation revolted against the Ayub system and replaced it with a parliamentary form of government.

One may now wonder why our politicians and intellectuals were so infatuated with the parliamentary system. It is obviously not linked to our religion or culture. We were introduced to it in phases by our colonial rulers in the last century.

One of the principles of this system is that the prime minister should be a member of the National Assembly. Under Article 91(3) of our constitution, the National Assembly members must elect the PM after the election of the speaker and the deputy speaker, to the exclusion of any other business, without debate, from one of its Muslim members.

The president then, on the advice of the prime minister, appoints federal ministers and ministers of state under Article 92(1) of the constitution “from among the members of parliament (consisting of the Senate and the National Assembly), provided that the number of these ministers who are members of the Senate cannot at any time exceed one-fourth of the number of the ministers”. The total strength of the federal ministers cannot exceed 11 percent of the total membership of parliament.

Article 91(9) says that a minister shall cease to be a minister if he is not a member of parliament for a period of six consecutive months, and cannot again be appointed a minister unless he is elected a member of the assembly. Under Article 93, the president, on the prime minister’s advice, can appoint a maximum of five advisers.

What the preceding paragraph says is simple. A federal minister must be active in electoral politics in order to be constitutionally eligible to become a minister, unless he is lucky to make a deal to become a Senate member, or is even luckier to be appointed one of the five advisers.

Do you really realise what the above provisions mean? It means that the law-makers expect an expert or a professional or an intellectual to also be active in electoral politics, and obviously be crafty enough to get elected. He also must be rich as elections cannot be fought on the basis of one’s university GPA. This is a criterion that professionals cannot fulfil, which is why they remain excluded.

T S R Subramanian, a former union cabinet secretary of India whose constitution we copied to a large extent and whose judicial judgements our courts follow almost on a daily basis, questioned whether a minister must be a member of parliament. He says that:

“A minister is the head of a department, whose role is to supervise evolution of policies and procedures, implementation of programmes and projects, and ensure all these are done professionally, with high quality, and in public interest. Thus the job requirement ought to be knowledge and experience of the field, a proven track record, ability to lead teams, and generate results: much like the role of a general manager in a corporation who need not necessarily be a part of the ownership of the company.

“Why should it be mandated that only an elected or nominated MLA or MP becomes the chief of a department, which is usually a large empire? In what manner is the MLA or MP exclusively qualified to inspire, conceive, implement, supervise and monitor large programmes? By definition, the executive position is non-political in nature: it is neutral implementation of policies and programmes; why should it be in the exclusive domain of an elected representative to hold this post? Isn’t it logical to choose the best person available?”

Subramanian then goes on to say that: “There is no doubt that much talent of many varieties is available among our legislators. Many MLAs are masters in managing bands of thugs and gangsters in their constituencies to ensure ‘order’ in their mini-fiefdoms. Many have expertise in beating up toll-booth personnel, or gate-crashing private clubs. All legislators are experts in self-aggrandisement, obfuscation, and giving themselves pay-rises. But these are not the qualifications required to imaginatively and inspirationally conceive plans and manage a large development department.

“How many MLAs or MPs are there who can get a college lecturer’s job and hold it with credit? How many legislators will a Ratan Tata or a Shiv Nadar hire on merit to be a project manager: six rungs below the executive director; indeed how many ministers can one identify who can hold down an undersecretary or section officer’s job in their own ministry with reasonable competence! No doubt there are politicians with high IQ and ability; no company chief will ever hire them, as they will be perceived to have the potential and capability to sell the company down the river overnight.

“That a circus acrobat has talent does not alone qualify him or her to become a vice-chancellor. Is it not absurd to prescribe a qualification, say, that the national basketball team will be selected only from those who are 5 feet 4 inches tall (national average) or below? Should a fisherman, say having only experience of wielding a basic catamaran, be catapulted without any training or experience to command a Dreamliner?”

Subramanian was describing the members of the Indian parliament but are the qualifications of our parliamentary members any different?

Apart from the military, politicians constitute the most privileged class in the country. They of course will argue that it is essential to have a political head to lead each ministry. This is highly fallacious. Political ministers behave more as politicians than as executives. Their focus is on ensuring their own political continuity and relevance, and recouping their electoral expenses and accumulating additional wealth. Not a single minister comes to work on time. And the time they spend sitting in their ministerial office is mostly without any redeeming contribution.

If the Article 91(3) stipulation for a minister to be a member of parliament is rescinded, it will enable the prime minister to choose his management team from the best talent available, from any source, which can also include members of parliament if they qualify on grounds of competence.

The people of Pakistan deserve better. Democracy’s purpose is to foster welfare of the people, and to rely on the best available governance and administration. The choice of selection of leaders for governance, meaning cabinet ministers, should accordingly not be confined to one particular class or group, especially when they have no special experience or background in managing the portfolio they are assigned.

The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court.

Email: [email protected]

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