Ministerial comings & goings – I.A. Rehman

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MINISTERS rarely become popular in developing countries. Most of them lose the people’s sympathy for failing to meet the expectations of public service, even if the task at hand is beyond any human being’s capacity to accomplish. Thus no tears are shed when a minister is shown the door. Generally, such a person is considered incapable of meeting the demands of a position that many consider a sinecure.

Thus ordinary citizens are unable to approve or disapprove of a Pakistani minister’s termination simpliciter, especially if there is no evidence of any charges having been made against the victim. Those made to leave in this expeditious way have held thanksgiving ceremonies and have appreciated their relatively inexpensive departure. Imperfect governments often do not bother about such questions such as the right to a hearing. They take the overall verdict of the commander as fair and just and the best option for the victim is to disappear from public memory.

Some governments create problems for themselves by offering a reason for a minister’s dismissal because the reasons are justiciable. For instance, it is said in the case of Pakistan’s finance minister who was sacked the other day that he failed to control the surge in prices. But is it possible for a finance minister to prevent an increase in prices in a country where regulatory mechanisms have been abandoned in the interest of allowing freedom to market forces? Did the finance minister have the authority to regulate the market? He should have briefed the government about the possible consequences of the interplay of market forces. Did he bring the situation to the attention of the cabinet or government? Is it a practice to bring such issues to the attention of the government? In any case, what did the Rules of Business framed in 1973, half a century ago, say on the subject?

In the past, such questions had to be faced and answered at an appropriately high level but these things seem to have been forgotten in the hustle and bustle of advanced management.

These days the bosses who have the power to sack ministers have become compassionate supremos.

In any case, why should there be any hullabaloo over the departure of a minister? A sufficient answer is that he lost the confidence of the prime minister. In the newly developed conventions of advanced societies, the decisions of the supreme authority cannot be challenged anywhere, and certainly not in any court of law.

Thank heavens the art of running an efficient administration has been simplified by doing away with time-consuming procedures involving show-cause notices, charge sheets and hearings before special tribunals. Mercifully, decision-making has been made simple to an extent that the person in the dock is simply told to get lost. Most people dealt with in this way have celebrated the abolition of painful procedures that used to be justified in the name of fair play.

All this discussion on the comings and goings of political figures or the lords of bureaucracy is for the consumption of sticklers for perfection. The common man has learnt from centuries of experience that all that is required of an obedient citizen is to enthusiastically welcome each new authority and quietly bid farewell to each departing sahib. This is the law of nature. We cannot order nature. Thus the option before us is not to ask but only to declare submission to whatever fate deals out. After all everything that happens can be attributed to divine will. So, dear former minister, thank God for saving you from trials you might have faced if the competent authority had not granted you the relief you needed to spend more time with your family. Don’t bother about your means of survival. Human beings have survived in the hardest possible times. So will you if you don’t make the mistake of asking every man why you have been cashiered.

The system of dealing with political appointments as tenants at will has been justified by centuries of trial and error. No state can bear the cost of making such assignments permanent or pensionable. Some people consider this system unjust and complain that it breeds corruption. No system breeds corruption; the fault lies with corrupt people who can mould the most honest systems into corrupt practices.

Some people complain that political appointments are a way to favour influential people. This is true but this is the least offensive way to accommodate ambitious people that all societies have among them. In fact, it is a kind of safety valve. All important people attract hangers-on. If you don’t provide them with a legal means of earning a living, they will find illegitimate ways to meet their needs.

Although ministers usually belong to well-to-do families or discover high-sounding family backgrounds as soon as fortune smiles on them, every now and then a person of modest means sneaks into the halls of power. Such persons should be entitled to fitment allowances so that they may appear to the public as owners of means of refurbishing themselves to the extent considered necessary or desirable.

In the bad old days, ministers who lost their jobs had to spend the rest of their lives in the wilderness. Now they shine on television as experts in their fields and give advice to all and sundry, advice they should have given themselves when they were on trial.

These days the bosses who have the power to sack ministers have become compassionate supremos. They do not dismiss the undesirable officials, they politely tell them to get lost. Instead of announcing that so and so has been sacked, the notification says so and so has been relieved of his burden. What a relief!

In view of the shortage of people with ministerial potential, ministers are not relieved of their positions; they are simply transferred from one department to another. The system of transfer from one station to another or one post to another saves many from being found out. The system takes care of the rotten eggs in the basket.