Apr 272008

MR Asif Zardari’s quest for conciliation, or the urge to carry everybody along as his lyrical refrain goes, also carries with it a cost which in the course of time might outweigh the semblance of unity that he has been able to project.

Factional and personal interests will dog every step of the hodgepodge government at the centre and in the provinces.

The first and obvious, though not the biggest, cost would be in the employment of many more ministers, deputy ministers, advisers, etc than the work requires. The numbers being talked about point towards a political establishment much larger than it was during the last Musharraf-backed government.

The number of ministers in each government is now heading towards half a century. Compare that in historical perspective with five ministers in Sindh and seven at the centre in the midst of the chaos that followed Partition. Such was the vigil of the founding fathers and their concern for propriety and public money. The worry now, however, should be less about the financial cost of the large establishments and more about the distraction, even nuisance, which the idle ministers and those in their tow must cause.

It is a matter of common knowledge that new vehicles purchased and manpower recruited for crime control over the past 10 years were all deployed to escort ministers and officials and to guard their homes. One provincial minister was said to be content with no less than three new vehicles in his escort. Hardly a vehicle went to the police stations for which they were all meant. Small wonder crime is increasing in tandem with the expense of controlling it.

Since every minister and senior official now feels his life threatened (police chiefs most of all), the expense can be cut only by reducing their number. Fifteen ministers at the centre and 10 in the province should suffice. Surely it would mean not just financial saving but also greater efficiency and less corruption. But the conciliatory effort is driven by the desire to exercise power, or even to share the spoils, and not the urge to serve the people.

There being no material difference in the foreign, domestic or economic policies of the contending parties the fuss is all about the place of Musharraf, if any at all, in the future set-up. That is not reason enough for making the governments at the centre and in the provinces unwieldy and inefficient at the same time.

It would raise the stock of party leaders in the eyes of the public if they were to wind up the secretariats of the prime minister and chief ministers. They do not need one of their own when the secretariats of the governments are all theirs. That is how it always was till men suffering from a superiority complex without being superior came to occupy those high offices. Cast out of the mainstream of the government, they now sit in isolated splendour surrounded by sycophants and intriguers who alternately assure the ‘Chaudhry sahabs’ and ‘Mian sahabs’ that they are masters of all they survey. The laws, rules and propriety are for lesser mortals.

The incoming prime minister and chief ministers would be better informed, more effective and accessible to the public if they were to sit in the secretariat of the government and close all their other offices except those in the assemblies. The palace-like structures built in Islamabad and Lahore can be profitably disposed of.

The Foreign Office can shift to the prime minister’s secretariat. The vast compound that the foreign ministry now occupies would fetch billions if sold to embassies or hoteliers. The prime minister should live in the presidency which has a large cabinet block attached to it. In fact it was all designed for the chief executive. It became the presidency because then Ayub Khan was the chief executive and there was no prime minister. Musharraf, or his successor, who would be just a constitutional head in the scheme now in the making, should befittingly live in the prime minister’s house on the hill to enjoy the splendour of the Margalla at his abundant leisure.

To recover a billion or more surreptitiously invested by Chaudhry Parvaiz Elahi in his personal secretariat which militates against both the law and good taste may not be easy. But the building with its Italian granite and Burma teak is not the right place for Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s brainchild of a technical institute either. If it were not for the enormous amount spent it should have been pulled down. Now that it is there it could find customers among the consulates and the corporations.

In any case, Mr Shahbaz Sharif should not feel compelled to occupy it just because it is there. He appeared amenable to a suggestion that the chief minister should sit where his government is and where every chief executive sat in the colonial era and later. The other day Syed Babar Ali of LUMS, a Lahori for four generations, nostalgically recalled how every ‘Latsab’ and no less than the Nawab of Kalabagh drove to the civil secretariat with a single motorcycle pilot. Now the Punjab chief minister has four offices but none where it should be. And, according to one account, the last incumbent of the post had 400 employees and 100 vehicles – all at his command.

From where and how the prime minister and the chief ministers should work seems like jumping the gun when the governments are not working at all. Ten weeks after the elections the cabinets have yet to assemble and the senior officials are queuing up to affirm or switch loyalties before the party chiefs. The activity centres only on conciliation (call it horse-trading if you will), in placating or outwitting the judges and lawyers or in anticipating what Musharraf is up to.

This writer had occasion to tell the comeback kid brother (who is more sensitive to public agony and restiveness than his elders and ideologues) that he has but three more months to hang all blame on Musharraf’s peg. He readily agreed. The rest of the lot appears to luxuriate in the thought of five years of pomp and power ahead. That was the privilege alone of the politicians under Gen Musharraf’s umbrella. The count now appropriately should be in days. It was complacency and arrogance that swept Musharraf and his cohorts away within weeks. With the wave of discontent sweeping across the country the timeframe for his successors wouldn’t be any different.

Courtesy: Daily Dawn, 27/4/2008

 Posted by at 4:13 pm

Leave a Reply

en English
%d bloggers like this: