Shuffle time


Same old deal?

As talk of a cabinet shuffle gains traction, it seems this is the Sharifs’ way of appearing proactive. Mian sahib no doubt realises, or has come to realise by now, that merely redistributing ministries and important positions among close family and party loyalists will not do it this time. Not only must there be a thorough and strict evaluation of ministries and state institutions during the last 16 months, it should also be ensured that qualification criteria finally shift from family and party loyalty. Granted, some positions are more political in nature, and most of the many grey haired politicians in the N league can fill them – though there’s still a case against rotating them exclusively among the kitchen cabinet. Yet others are also technical, and require more than political clout, or political affiliations.

Take the Pakistan Steel Mills example. Instead of appointing a technical or business/financial expert, the N-league chose a mechanical engineer – a retired major general – in April. Yet, despite promises of ‘capacity utilisation’ and ‘turnaround’, in the end analysis PSM haemorrhaged Rs53 billion (in addition to existing Rs258 billion debt and liabilities) since the new government took office. And interestingly, the N-league blamed the international market crash of ’08 for the Mills’ problems in its interaction with the IMF. Now, as the ruling party prepares for a reset, its leaders are reminded that in addition to pointing at exogenous shocks and political disturbances (dharnas, etc), they must also identify and remove their own faults.

The prime minister, and hopefully the Punjab chief minister, should also have realised by now the downside of keeping multiple ministries. The PM must let go of the foreign ministry portfolio, for example, and the Kh Asif model – defence and water and power – should also not be repeated. Important ministries, at least, should have dedicated and capable leaders. That much, at least, should be obvious. But news reports that the PM might reward those that stayed closest in the darkest days of the dharna, if true, are cause for concern. The public is growing more political and vocal by the day. Cosmetic gestures will not sit well anymore.