Ministries are on a loot sale. Every possible name and label has been given the name of a ministry. In fact, the government has really run out of more names
Ministers are the only missiles that neither work nor can be ‘fired’. It is a saying that was coined years ago by some disillusioned analyst but holds true for what is happening in our country. Ministries are on a loot sale. Every possible name and label has been given the name of a ministry. In fact, the government has really run out of more names. However, there are ever more candidates to be awarded this status. To accommodate them, you either remove the existing ministers or create new ministries. Since the first is not possible, the second remains an overdrawn option. The best way to satisfy people in the queue is to make them a minister of state without a portfolio. Imagine having all the perks and benefits without a single responsibility to your name. Nevertheless, when the government has reached a level of indifference where the prime minister insists he can carry on despite being convicted, it does not really matter who gets what among those who report to him. That is why the news of a ministry swap between the minister of defence and minister of water and power has not raised an eyebrow in political circles. The facile way in which ministers of portfolios of such crucial strategic importance have been moved around reflects the zero focus of the government to address the chronic hemorrhaging going on in the economy.
Energy and power has been acknowledged as the biggest setback to our industrial development. Ministers upon ministers have been tried and each one has failed with great aplomb. When asked why the minister of defence had been given that responsibility, it was discovered that Mr Ahmad Mukhtar had made a presentation to the government and had promised that he could make load shedding disappear in six months. This statement seems so stale since from Raja Pervez to President Zardari, everybody has been giving dates to end this problem and everybody has been proved wrong. The last energy conference held by the government had come up with nothing. Offices to be closed two days and shops to be closed early — such suggestions have only a comic value and get so ridiculed that they are not worth any consideration. However, the ministers who created the mess are like holy cows — you cannot touch them. Raja Pervez Ashraf has been rewarded for his bungling by being appointed as a minister of state that practically means minister of nothing; perhaps he has such a high calibre that no ministry can do justice to his level of competence. The axe falls normally on people below who are actually just following orders from the top. Take the case of load shedding; after confirmed incompetence by all ministers, the man to be fired is the MD of PEPCO Rasul Khan Mahsud. What can the poor man do if the government is not willing to release money to reduce the circular debt?
The higher you go the more the immunity to dabble in malpractice and mal-performance. The most glaring example of this President Zardari principle is Rehman Malik. Having been repeatedly defaulting on every duty of providing security in the country, he got a presidential condoning of these scandalous acts allowing him to conduct merrily business as usual. Such is the staunch faith of his bosses in his immense ability. After having been disqualified by the court as a member of parliament due to holding dual nationality, a fact that he has been denying for the last four years, he was immediately reappointed as the advisor to the prime minister on interior affairs. Such alacrity on reappointing him speaks volumes of how they all flock together to sustain this axis of nation destroyers.
Not to be outdone in this race of getting their own men in, the PML-N has taken a similar route. The only difference is that while the PPP has their designated men slotted for ministerial position regardless of their background or performance, the chief minister of Punjab has designated ministries under his own portfolio and finds it very difficult to part with them. This ‘till death do us part’ attitude has created such a mess in education, health and the finance ministries that Punjab has started crumbling under debt and disorientation. Last year, Kamran Michael who was a minority member and had no inkling of finance, presented the budget. This year, the story is even more ridiculous. Rana Asif, the minority MPA, has been given the responsibility of presenting the budget. The fact that he holds Canadian nationality puts his eligibility in further dispute. Why the chief minister could not find another person to hold the finance portfolio and why such fake and deceptive steps need to be taken to bring in people you want to promote by hook or by crook, is just beyond comprehension.
The panic in both the parties is that this is probably an election year. They need to hold on to their cronies and people who share their value system. Since both the parties have messed up everything on the performance front, they are now in a situation where they realise that their position and power may not be sustainable. With a media who loves to expose their scandals and a public that has lost its patience and inertia, they need a combat strategy. Having little experience in public service and plenty of experience in public deception, it is but natural that they resort to melodramatic strategies. The prime minister flies to Balochistan as a saviour of the province after having neglected it for four years and makes the usual empty promises. The chief minister of Punjab opens a camp office in Iqbal Park, apparently against load shedding, and ensures that the media takes shots of all of his men using hand fans to prove how connected they are to the sentiments of the public. The only people they are fooling are themselves. The fundamental truth for them to own up to is that the public is far more aware and intelligent than they think. However, it is this ignorance of their own ignorance that makes them repeat behaviours that are eventually going to be self-defeating.
The writer is an analyst, consultant and the information Secretary of the PTI Punjab, She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org