Volume 23 Issue 5, June 2019


By Dr. Niaz Murtaza

On the campaign trial, the PTI had promised major Tabdeeli. Thus, the party itself had created high hopes for its first months in power. Now that the PTI has been in power for nine months, it is time to judge how it has fared in office. Even though bringing about lasting outcomes take years, one can still judge its initial performance by using a realistic framework focused on the causal chain of incremental change. The quality of outcomes that a party achieves depends on the quality of its governance and the quality of that in turn depends on the quality of its cabinet team. While it is too early to judge PTI on outcomes, it is not too early to judge its team and the quality of its governance to-date.

With regard to the team, not only opponents and neutral analysts, the PTI itself has judged it as weak by making such major changes in the team and the vice-captain (the finance minister) in just eight months. Its critics had being highlighting the problems related to competence and integrity in the PTI cabinet (dis)appointments for long. There were too many new faces with too little experience or competence while so many of those with experience had done poorly in previous eras and had dubious integrity. But these concerns have not gone away despite the major changes made as many of the ones not replaced and the new faces suffer from the same issues. Thus, many have doubts whether even the new cabinet will perform much better. It still remains inefficient and rife with internal rifts.

There is also the issue of the captain himself. There is little doubt about his honesty but many question his competence for this job compared with great leaders like Mahathir, Erdogan and Lee, who had years of governmental experience and demonstrable competence before they became PM though some of them were not necessarily honest. Thus, top leader competence is more critical than honesty in practice. Also, despite being honest, Imran has shown a tendency to ignore corruption within his own team. Top leaders have to work through their cabinets, which in turn must work through the bureaucracy, which must deal with society to produce outcomes. As a social scientist, I have long been skeptical that Imran’s honesty alone could negate the drag of his own incompetence and inexperience, and the dishonesty and incompetence of so many in his party, bureaucracy and society to produce major change.

The problems with the captain and the team have directly affected the quality of its governance in the first nine months. The main areas of governance are a) meeting people’s basic needs directly in areas like food, water, security, etc. b) managing the economy to help people meet their needs from the private sector c) domestic politics vis-à-vis ties with party members, allies, opposition and, in Pakistan’s case, uniquely with powerful state institutions and d) foreign relations. The main functions of governance to produce outcomes in these governance areas are a) legislation b) policy/strategy c) projects d) on-going service delivery and e) institutional reform to help them do better in these areas and functions.

No legislation has yet been passed in the National Assembly. Policy-wise, PTI’s main challenge after gaining power was to deal with an economy nose-diving due to PML-N’s policies, especially Dar’s. But the long delay in finalizing the IMF deal increased the economic uncertainty and situation. Major structural policy/ measures on taxes, exports, industry, etc. are still awaited. Meanwhile, the PTI has also had to take many unpopular decisions to reverse the impact of the questionable PML-N policies, e.g., devaluation, energy and interest rate hikes and reduction in development budget. While these measures were inescapable, they have slowed down the economy, increased inflation and unemployment and impacted people’s ability to meet their basic needs. The very few overall policies or measures unfurled for basic needs, e.g. housing and poverty alleviation policies and dam donation drives have been unconvincing. There is little evidence of improved service delivery in any area and in fact there is seemingly a paralysis in Punjab with respect to every-day work. Institutional reform is in disarray with retreats on Punjab police reform, a controversial local government reform and on-going ad-hoc interference in bureaucracy, like under PML-N.

Politically, its ties with allies are uneasy and very poor with the opposition, media and civil society. This has created political uncertainty to match the economic uncertainty. The PTI’s excessive focus on the accountability of opposition leaders is making the process controversial. Many are invoking the PTI’s own earlier rallying call that accountability must start at the top with the PM and ruling party. They are questioning why the many cases against the PM and PTI leaders from its five years rule in KP are not moving equally rapidly. There have been some positive outcomes in foreign ties, e.g., with Saudi Arabia, UAE and USA. This has temporarily helped avoid default via bailouts and may lead to foreign investment in the future. But ties with China are in a drift and there has been a slowdown in CPEC momentum.

Thus, much of the earlier hope about major change and good governance from PTI has vanished and there is doubt about whether the PTI can even match the PPP and PML-N. This loss of trust is the biggest issue facing the PTI. But clearly, it has time on its side, with four years left to deliver. However, the tough economic situation which is likely to persist for 2 to 3 years may constrain its ability to deliver change. More crucially, to win back the trust, it will quickly have to fix the major problems in its team and unfurl convincing policies and projects. Otherwise, tabdeeli will remain a distant dream.

The writer is a Senior Fellow with UC Berkeley and heads INSPIRING Pakistan, a progressive policy unit. He can be reached at murtazaniaz@yahoo.com

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