Editorial : Musical chairs - Monday, February 14, 2011

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/02/14/musical-chairs.html

ON Friday, the first inductees into Pakistan`s new cabinet were sworn in. Although more ministers will be appointed after this batch of 22, the final number is expected to reflect the ruling party`s stated intention of reducing the size of the cabinet as an austerity measure. This is a welcome move in light of the dire state of the economy. It also reflects a willingness to reach across the aisle, given that it came out of discussions with the PML-N on economic reform. And although unnecessary ministerial appointments have long existed in Pakistan, this is the first time that a government in power has acted to cut down its own cabinet.

That said, Friday`s app-ointments brought with them a sense of déjà vu rather than a breath of fresh air. The interior minister, for example, was not removed despite his failure to improve internal security and allegations of mismanagement and corruption against the FIA and NAB. Replacing the information minister with someone who has limited understanding of the media makes little sense, as does delegating the foreign ministry to a junior minister, especially at a time of sensitive relations with the US and renewal of dialogue with India. While Raza Rabbani has been included, his qualifications and reputation mean he could have been handed a more critical portfolio, such as the law ministry. One encouraging sign was the removal of the water & power minister, given the little progress on the energy front and numerous charges of corruption during his tenure. But the overall impression is that individual relationships with the president, political dynamics within the ruling party and constituency politics — many names on the new list bring with them important vote banks that would welcome government jobs — have played a major role in forming the new cabinet.

Most of the critical ministries have already been handed out in this manner. What remains to be seen is what will be done with the remaining slots. Although 18th Amendment guidelines suggest more room, it would be a positive sign of intent if the number was kept below the maximum level. But while austerity is important, that should not be the only purpose of reappointing a cabinet in a country in need of far more productive governance. An ineffective or corrupt operator does not make for an efficient machine, especially when a smaller number of ministers have to shoulder the burden of running the country, and more sincerity put into whatever appointments are left would be appreciated. The absence of change is not something that Pakistan can afford at this time.

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