Appointing cabinet ministers | Pakistan Today

Appointing cabinet ministers

  • Yasmeen Aftab AliIt is next to impossible to prepare for the big office

According to international criteria, there are three straight forward rules in filling cabinet posts.

First; the cabinet minister must possess educational qualification or relevant experience in either the private sector or in government sector to qualify. This same bar must apply to any advisory appointment as well. The second rule is the trust the presidents/prime ministers have in a candidate and is measured by the loyalty the candidate has towards the president/prime minister or/and the party. If one views the initial appointments by Trump, both at Cabinet and sub-cabinet levels were those who had endorsed him and/or advised him in his campaign. Flynn and Sessions, are two such examples.

The third rule is more ‘democratic’ in nature. The appointees must be reflective and representative of the people who have elected them. A ‘concrete floor’ is an intrinsic part of this representation. Concrete floor refers to a balance between genders in representation. The first cabinet by French President Emmanuel Macron had eleven out of twenty three cabinet appointees being women.

The first position in cabinet in US by a woman was in 1933. Frances Perkins, an American sociologist and workers-rights advocate who served as US Secretary of Labour from 1933 till 1945 and became the first woman serving in US cabinet. Bill Clinton became the first US president to appoint three women in his first stint as president in 1993. Later, George W. Bush, appointed three and then four women in his two cabinets year 2009 and 2013.

Concrete floor is needed to legitimise a parliament being fair in representation of the population in claims to represent.

According to a press release by the Pakistan Bureau of Statics for year 2017 provisionally; the total population of Pakistan stands at 207,774,520. The number of women is 101,314,780 whereas men are 106,449,322. Meanwhile, there are 10,418 transgenders.

Good governance may have different faces in different countries but it is common at one level: of being accountable and of being inclusive

A ‘good’ representation is not possible also if members of racial or ethnic minority groups are ignored in cabinet appointments. In US since Richard Nixon left office, there has been no cabinet that is ‘all-white’. Irrespective if the government has been led by a Republican or a Democratic president.

The skills needed to win an election may be very different from holding a cabinet position and delivering in a given field. It is next to impossible to prepare for the office. The responsibility that goes with it, the pressure to deliver in a given time period and the intense media scrutiny both by the mainstream and the now strong social media. Professional development of politicians just does not happen in Pakistan owing to scarce democratic norms exercised within the party. Usually parties in Pakistan are governed by families or by one person structure leading more to appointment of blue-eyed rather than following the rules of appointment.

The times have changed in Pakistan with a strong media. Bad appointments can cost. Criticism can be intense. There is a recent case of the comments made by Punjab’s Minister of Information and Culture Fayyazul Hasan Chohan, about stage artists Megha and Nargis. Though the minister has apologised for his comments, the backlash has been harsh.

In extreme cases, the ‘bad appointments’ can lead to bad performance of duties to an extent that it can lead to removal from cabinet position or a reshuffle, in both cases giving space to the opposition and media to question the competence of the sitting government.

Owing to the many scandals coming to light regarding money laundering in Pakistan, it becomes mandatory for citizens to know what their ministers own as they take up their official positions in cabinet. Will the ministers publicly declare their current assets and liabilities and will they give up their businesses in active position? How will the government address this conflict of interest? This becomes extremely crucial in case of deliberate misuse of power or to be ‘viewed’ as one.

An equally important question here is the formulation of bench marks that determine if cabinet ministers have performed well or poorly. There must be short term, medium term and long term bars. Institutional improvements must be measured.

Yet another important point to be addressed is the number of not only the federal ministers and advisors but also these appointments at the provincial level. The appointments must not only be on need basis and determined on population of the province but must also meet the three principles of appointment. To draw attention to one example only; Punjab has a cabinet of 23 not including advisor(s).

Good governance may have different faces in different countries but it is common at one level: of being accountable and of being inclusive trickling down to local government and involving the citizens in running the country. Transparency and effectiveness of decision making, transparency in implementation of projects is the key to positive governance. To deliver the right composition of members (cabinet position and the entire team involved) is a basic ingredient, without which good governance is simply not possible.

“Go the extra mile to do the undone, but work within your limits, and in doing so also, don’t be a coward to question things within your limit that are not all that right, and don’t be too arrogant or proud or be filled with excessive knowledge to do things which might though be within your limit, yet out of limit, for you must live and leave nothing, but distinctive and lasting footprints!” (Ernest Agyemang Yeboah)

Yasmeen Aftab Ali

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: [email protected] and tweets at @yasmeen_9.

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