Members of the incumbent government, led by the worthy Prime Minister himself, should not shy away from accepting this undeniable fact; over the past 40 months, despite noteworthy efforts in certain areas, the PTI government has, for the most part, failed to fulfil its electoral promises.
Government officials, and in particular the Prime Minister’s spokesperson(s), claim that the only problem with the government’s performance is that the government has failed to adequately highlight its achievements. Perhaps as a rectification thereof, on February 10, 2022, in an attempt to publicly celebrate its marked achievements, the Prime Minister awarded appreciation certificates to the ‘top 10 best performing federal ministries’. While the precise (objective) criteria for evaluation of the Ministries remains a secret (till date), the government disclosed that the Ministry of Communications, Ministry of Planning, Development and Special Initiatives, and Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety Division were among the top performers.
It is not clear what benefit (if at all) accrued to the government as a result of this ‘employee of the month-esque exercise’, however, someone needs to tell the worthy Prime Minister that such award ceremonies will not fix the overarching rot of our governance structure.
Let us start by asking, who, precisely, is responsible for the crisis of governance that persists in our country today? Can it all just be blamed on previous governments (as the PTI wants us to believe)? Or is it entirely the result of PTI’s failed governmental policies (as the opposition would argue)? Or is it more a function of the ‘system’ that we live in? Has this crisis resulted from incompetence of select individuals within PTI’s political team? Or is there something more sinister at play? Is the federal government to be blamed for lack of planning and anticipation? Or does the blame need to be distributed between the respective provincial governments?
These, and other such questions, must be honestly asked and answered, if we are to harbour any hope of fixing the litany of governance crises we face today.
The facts are these: PTI’s governance model, as pitched by Imran Khan in the lead-up to the 2018 general elections, has failed (thus far) to deliver on its promise. Usman Buzdar is not ‘Wasim Akram plus’. Looted money has not returned home. The ‘corrupt’ (as claimed by Imran Khan) have all managed to slip through the porous grasp of a meek prosecutorial system. The entrenchment of corruption (per the recent Transparency International report) has only deepened. Unemployment remains rampant. Inflation has spiralled out of control. And no long-term economic revival plan seems to be in place.
In fact, many of the provincial governance issues—not directly within the control of Imran Khan—are also being tagged to the Federal Government. In Sindh, for example, the issue of rainwater, of lack of rabies medication, of HIV outspread, or garbage collection, or the malnutrition in Thar, fall squarely within the domain of provincial governance. After promulgation of the 18th Constitutional Amendment (in 2010), the Provinces are responsible for issues such as health, medication, sanitary works and food procurement. The Federal Government has no role in these matters. However, the inept PPP government continues to blame the Federation for these problems, under the garb of insufficient funds being provided to the province of Sindh. And in public perception, the political buck stops with the Prime Minister and his party.
Making matters worse, in Punjab, Usman Buzdar has repeatedly failed in anticipating (or countering) governance challenges. In this regard, incidents like Murree remain an indelible blotch on the fabric of our governance matrix.
But even away from such emergency situations, the Buzdar government failed to avoid problems that could have been foreseen and remedied. To this end, throughout the three monsoon seasons (2019–2021), the Buzdar government has failed in taking preventive measures against the spread of dengue virus. Unlike the Shehbaz Sharif years, the Buzdar government did not run an aggressive awareness campaign, or enforce the requisite preventive measures. There was no concerted government drive to prevent water stagnation. No mechanism for periodic fumigation. And no real focus on vaccination or blood drive.
Next, the smog/fog season in Lahore. In anticipation of the terrible conditions (and in compliance with the honourable Lahore High Court’s orders), the brick-kilns across Punjab were scheduled to be shut down in October. And requisite administrative measures were to be taken to ensure that industrial emissions are monitored in early fall. The Buzdar government, however, snoozed on the job, resulting in a consecutive third season of worsening smog conditions.
At the close of last year, we saw the unnecessary creation of a fertiliser shortage crisis. Despite having produced enough fertiliser, the administrative mismanagement in Buzdar government resulted in a synthetic shortage, inflated prices, stock-hoarding, and a resulting crisis for the agriculture sector.
For all of these, and other issues, when the Buzdar government could not meet the requisite minimum standards of governance, Imran Khan was naturally blamed for it. After all, his party was in power in Punjab. He had picked the Chief Minister. He is responsible for the policy of the party. However, under the 18th Constitutional Amendment, he has no legal authority to directly interfere in the functioning of Punjab. The Federal Government has no meaningful role in the functioning of the health sector (for Dengue) or the agriculture sector (for fertiliser) in Punjab.
What could Imran Khan do, in the situation, to better address the governance crisis in Punjab? Manage Punjab’s governance through appointing bureaucracy of his choice—reporting directly to him. The last time such an attempt was made a handful of PTI parliamentarians, edged on by the Chief Minister himself, raised slogans about empowering the Chief Minister. And this tussle between Khan’s bureaucracy and Buzdar’s independence, gave wind to forces that wish to see Imran Khan’s political enterprise fail.
Since then, the precarious political alliance, in the centre and in Punjab, has seemed brittle. Allies have repeatedly expressed their reservations against government policy. Factions within PTI (especially in Punjab) have voiced concern over Islamabad’s interference in the running of provincial matters. And the opposition political parties have started to voice hopes of political change in Punjab and (perhaps) in the centre.
Can this crisis of governance be resolved? Is it only a function of an incompetent political team in Punjab and Sindh? Are personalities to be blamed? Or is there a larger structural solution available, regardless of the personalities involved.
There can be no denying that Buzdar and his team are not ‘Wasim Akram plus’. And that part of the problem emanates from the personalities involved. Imran Khan must reconsider a political shuffle at the helm of Punjab. No individual, even Buzdar, should be considered indispensable in the current paradigm.
However, there is a larger structural solution that has been ignored for too long. That of implementing Article 140-A of the Constitution, and devolving “political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local governments.” Unless this constitutional command is implemented, in letter and spirit, the crisis of governance will not dissipate at the grassroots level. Yes, the provincial government must do their job diligently. Yes, the Federal Government must introduce better economic and governance policies. But the real relief to the hapless people of this country can only result from an empowerment of the local government. Usman Buzdar, and his cabinet, are not the constitutionally envisioned service delivery mechanism. Neither is Murad Ali Shah and his coterie. These governments will be forced to concentrate on their core function—of legislating reform—if the service delivery is devolved to the local governments, as required by the Constitution of Pakistan.
PM Khan must revisit his speeches and rhetoric from the pre-2018 years. And be reminded that he had promised an effective local governance system, which helps alleviate the plight of our people. Wasim Akram plus, or Javed Miandad minus, can then focus on the job they were elected to do: Help reform our legislative framework, and set course for policies that bring Pakistan in step with the 21st century.
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has an LL.M. in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be reached at: email@example.com, or Twitter:
Who, precisely, is responsible for the crisis of governance that persists in our country today?