Monday, January 19, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Jan 20, 2015

Government disarray Nothing has exposed the government’s incompetence and bad governance like the ongoing petrol crisis. It took Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s return to the country and taking ‘notice’ of the issue before the government even seemed to wake up from its somnolent state to become aware that a severe crisis was at hand. Naturally the question arises whether the prime minister is the only ‘man’ in the federal cabinet? Where were all the concerned and responsible ministers till then? Naturally, the prime minister is furious at the neglect on display. He has vowed not to spare any culprit responsible for bringing the government into such disrepute. The whole country will be watching closely to see if the prime minister delivers on his threat. Some reason for scepticism resides in the fact that even some of his own PML-N leaders ascribe the debacle to the well known penchant of the Sharifs to rely on bureaucrats and their ‘close’ politicians rather than on merit to run the country. Some reports speak of the style of governance that restricts every decision of every ministry to final approval by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and virtual deputy prime minister, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar. This triumvirate, if the reports are correct, is ‘family-based’. Loyalty may be an old and reinforced after 1999 view of the Sharifs, but it is not the best way to run a government, and certainly not in a Pakistan today so very different, very much more complex and troubled than their tenure in the 1990s. It seems these leaders of the PML-N are either stuck in a time warp or so insecure that they cannot appoint people purely on merit and delegate powers to run things smoothly. Virtual ‘three (or one) man rule’ is a recipe for disaster in the 21st century. Presiding over yet another high powered ‘emergency’ meeting, the prime minister was visibly unhappy, not the least because neither the Petroleum Minister Khaqan Abbasi nor Finance Minister Ishaq Dar were prepared to accept responsibility for the crisis. Passing the buck was on display. This was further deepened when the two worthy ministers held press conferences on Monday. Khaqan Abbasi refused to concede any official negligence, whitewashed his ministry as not being responsible, and ascribed the whole crisis to the increased demand for petrol because of falling prices and the non-availability of CNG. Dar also sang the ‘not responsible’ refrain, denied that his ministry had delayed any payments to PSO, blamed the oil marketing companies for not maintaining minimum stocks, and finally fell back on some imaginary ‘conspiracy’ against the government. While Abbasi at least tried to allay the agitated concerns of the public by making soothing noises about shipments on the way that would ease the crisis within 5-8 days, Dar failed to explain why, if his claim about not owing PSO “even one rupee” is true, the country’s largest state-owned importer of oil reportedly defaulted 26 times in October-December 2014. Sad to say, whatever their mea culpas may or may not have done for the two ministers’ credibility, their fulminations only served to expose the incompetent underbelly of the government that now appears in disarray when two senior members of the federal cabinet act so irresponsibly, then deny responsibility, and finally pass the blame to ‘others’. It is no wonder then that the prime minister has set up yet another investigative committee to get to the bottom of the issue, fix responsibility and make recommendations on fuel management. A visibly perturbed prime minister seemed to have finally realised how deeply this debacle could damage the credibility and popularity of his government. Having barely breathed a sigh of relief now that Imran Khan has seen better sense and decided not to continue his sit-ins, the government has immediately lurched into another crisis that could knock the rug from under its feet, particularly if the rising public anger finds expression in agitation on the streets, which its opponents may seek to exploit. As it is, the PPP, PTI and PML-Q have already demanded Khaqan Abbasi’s head. From there to the Finance ministry is only a small step. What then of the prime minister’s team?

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