March 28, 2008

Cabinet formation delay

Filed under: NEW GOVERNMENT AFTER MARCH 24-2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 6:39 pm


MARCH 28, 2008


THE coalition partners must speed up cabinet formation. The delay has given rise to speculation that could hamper the process. As it is Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani taking the oath of office with no ministers being present at the ceremony � none had been appointed � was somewhat of an anomaly. The delay seems to stem from lack of agreement on the distribution of portfolios. Naturally every party would like to have a key ministry � home, foreign affairs, defence and finance. While one would expect the PPP as the leading party to have the first choice, reports in the media speak of difficulties in reaching an agreement. The PML-N is said to be eying the finance portfolio with the ANP keen on having the water and power ministry in which it feels it has a greater stake because of the existing and prospective hydro-electric projects being located in the NWFP.

It is strange that such questions should lead to hard bargaining. The fact is that once the cabinet is in place, key decisions on vital issues will be expected to be taken collectively by the government. It will not be the exclusive responsibility of an individual minister or his party to formulate and execute policy on the issues that fall in the domain of his ministry. This also leads us to the question of provincial autonomy that has been the most controversial question in Pakistan�s constitutional history. It has strained relations between the centre and the provinces � the failure of our leaders to reach a consensus on the distribution of powers in the federation in the past has had disastrous consequences for Pakistan. It would be a defining moment in the country�s politics if the main parties representing various provinces could sort out the provincial autonomy question. It has three dimensions. The smaller provinces want the relevant clauses in the constitution revised, because they think they are unfair to them. They feel that they are denied control over their natural resources and do not enjoy equal share in political decision-making. The success of democracy in a federal scheme depends a great deal on how the federating units and the federal government evolve a working relationship. The five governments now have a chance to prove they are quite capable of setting new precedents in this relationship and making a success of the Pakistani federation.

The solidarity exhibited by Mr Zardari, Mr Nawaz Sharif and Mr Asfandyar Wali to mark the beginning of the new, democratic era should enable them to move on to the next step. The people have expectations, and the new government must not disappoint them. A small and cohesive council of ministers, as has been promised, should prove to be more effective and efficient in addressing the issues facing the nation. A large and unwieldy army of ministers with the consequent burden on the exchequer is most undesirable.


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