The man at the helm is letting the country drift
Over the last four months, Nawaz Sharif has failed to take a number of important decisions creating the perception that he is indecisive.
Major cabinet posts remain unattended. The prime minister carries the burden of four critically important ministries – defence, foreign affairs, law and communications, thus giving rise to the question: whether the party lacks competent parliamentarians or the PM is reluctant to share power with cabinet members.
The 34 multiparty committees of the National Assembly were to be appointed, according to rules, within 30 days of the assumption of office by the PM i.e., by July 5. They were however formed on August 21. The committees including the all-important public accounts and finance, and standing committees of various ministries still remain nonfunctional as their chairmen have yet to be selected through consensus. As the PM rarely comes to the NA, a practice followed by most ministers, on most occasions there is none to reply in the house to questions related to these ministries.
After nearly half a dozen consultations spread over four months the prime minister and leader of the opposition have finally reached a consensus on the NAB chief. In view of the PML-N leadership’s attitude towards appointments to key posts, whether military or civil, the issue might have continued to hang fire if the Supreme Court was not been breathing down the government’s neck all this time.
The Sharifs have three huge skeletons rattling in their cupboards: the Ittefaq Foundries’ willful loan default, the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case and a case of assets beyond known means. And this is not including the potential money laundering case for which Ishaq Dar’s handwritten approver’s statement is lying with NAB.
During their first two tenures, the brothers depended on a pliant section of judiciary to bail them out. In a changed scenario they wanted a dependable NAB chief. With signs of the SC getting impatient, they have finally made what they think a safe bet. Whether it turns out to be so remains to be seen!
Finally Pakistan has an ambassador in the US. Sherry Rehman had resigned from the position in mid-May nearly five months back. Nawaz Sharif continued to dither over the appointment despite the revival of the strategic dialogue with the US. Pakistan had to depend on an acting ambassador when the prime minister headed to New York last month to attend the UN General Assembly session.
There is still no decision regarding the nomination of the successor of the outgoing CJCSC, nor on the replacement of Gen Kayani – who is to leave at the end of next month. There are no more than half a dozen possible candidates for the two jobs. The choice therefore should not have taken this long. The PM perhaps continues to be haunted by the memories of the past. Sharif’s relations with the army during his earlier stints in power have been bumpy, to say the least. He made Gen Karamat resign and had ordered Gen Musharraf’s removal when the latter struck the fatal blow, overthrowing the PML-N government in a putsch, putting the prime minister behind the bars. Sharif’s relations with Generals Aslam Beg, Janjua and Kakar also remained tense. So presumably fear and suspicion stands in the way of the choice of the two highest ranking military officers.
It is however difficult to explain what forces him to delay appointments of heads of important state controlled entities which is resulting in continued mismanagement and losses. The ailing PIA is still being run by the aviation secretary. After the rejection of the rise in power rates by the government, the determination of new power tariff has been assigned to NEPRA, which is yet to have a full time chairman.
The government has already included the projected $1-1.5 billion proceeds from the auctioning of the third generation (3G) mobile spectrum in the budget for the current fiscal. What it failed to do during the last four months was to appoint a permanent chairman and members of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) – a mandatory requirement for the sale. After formidable pressure from the SC the government has finally appointed member technical and member finance, handing over the charge of the PTA chairman to one of them “for the time being.”
The prime minister is still sleeping over the appointment of chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP). The Commission is important because it acts as the regulator of the corporate sector. It controls four broad categories of regulatory activities: corporatization of the economy and securities market, as well as non-banking financial and insurance sectors. The SECP chairman is, in essence, the chief watch dog of the corporate sector. The last head of the commission was removed by the Supreme Court in April 2013. None has been appointed to take his place
The Pakistan Drug Regulatory Authority is yet to get a CEO. The Authority established after the constitutional amendments that devolved health to provinces was supposed to manage and regulate pharmaceutical trade and industry, provide effective coordination and enforcement of the Drugs Act, 1976 and to bring harmony in inter-provincial trade and commerce of therapeutic goods. The absence of a whole time PDRA chief is therefore a huge aberration, putting the health of the nation at risk.
There are other important corporate and executive bodies which remain rudderless because of failure of the government to appoint their heads. There is Pakistan Steel Mill and PTV, for instance. There is also no permanent Chairman Election Commission after the departure of Fakhruddin G Ibrahim, which again is a serious matter as the local government elections are to be held within months. Unless the ECP takes into account the glaring loopholes witnessed in the general elections, the local government elections may lead to violence and widespread protests. For this the ECP urgently needs a CEC.
Indecisiveness is not confined to appointments on key slots alone. It is also reflected in delays in formulating policies. The much talked about national security policy has yet to see the light of day. It is anybody’s guess when the policy would be put before the NA for approval. A month has passed since the APC gave mandate to the government to hold talks with the Pakistani Taliban and, if talks fail, take recourse to alternatives.
Hakimullah Mehsud has now confirmed to the BBC that the government has taken no serious step to approach him. He has also made it clear that even after the Americans leave the region militant attacks inside Pakistan will continue. Further that there can be no peace till the constitution has been replaced by Sharia. He is also unwilling to declare ceasefire till the drone attacks stop.
What causes indecisiveness at this scale on the part of the prime minister? Does it emanate from putting more on his plate than he can be chew? Is it the hunch to micromanage the administration that keeps him busy in trivialities like presiding a meeting on the removal of encroachments from Lahore’s Circular Road? Has he lost sight of the forest for the trees? Or is it the relapse of the lack of focus or short attention span that characterised him during the last two tenures?
One thing however is certain: the PML-N had done no homework before taking over in June. One is not sure what the prime minister would do in case he is required to urgently take a decision crucial for the country.
Aziz-ud-Din Ahmad is a political analyst and a former academic.