The advisers are coming!

  • A vote of no-confidence in ministers?


The proposal to use technical advisers from the private sector in ministries above the secretary but below the ministers is supposed to be because the PTI government sees its failure to control the bureaucracy, and wishes to impose its will on the government this way. However, the origin of the concept reveals the real motive. The pattern to be followed is that of the undersecretary of a US department. In short, a position which exists in a presidential system is to be translated into a parliamentary system. There is one caveat: US undersecretaries may well come from the private sector, but they are not given private-sector salaries, as has been proposed for the technical advisers, who are to receive Special Salary Grades. This is not the first time that the government has shown a hankering for a presidential system. The usual number of PM’s Advisers and Special Assistants put in charge of ministries, cutting out members of Parliament, shows that the Prime Minister finds it problematic to find suitable ministers where a parliamentary system –mandates he find them– in Parliament. Even those ministers who have passed muster find that they will be given a subordinate between them and the departmental secretary, who will presumably continue to be a member of the permanent civil service.

Incidentally, those civil servants have also been found wanting, and the idea of generalists administering technical departments is clearly not appealing to the government. Another issue is that secretaries are the department’s principal accounting officers to Parliament, and it needs to be settled which official will be responsible to Parliament for the money it has provided. While ministers are responsible to Parliament, and so are secretaries, who are advisers responsible to? Is this an attempt to create a super-PM?

Another problem is that the scheme might merely be a jobs-for-the-boys plan, to accommodate the PTI ‘experts’ who have not got jobs so far. Even if the PTI eschews such naked nepotism, what is to stop future, less scrupulous, governments from misusing this? That government service needs reform is undeniable, but transplanting ideas from the presidential system to the parliamentary will not work. Civil service reform cannot achieve the consensus of civil servants, who would all have their own axes to grind. However, imposing a fiat is not desirable either.