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01/08/2019
USED WRAPPINGS
ON THE DANGERS OF FLATTERY

 

 

Pharaohs were swaddled in bandages; modern rulers are wrapped up in themselves. 

Once one reaches  political eminence –‘the top of the greasy pole', as the 19th century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli described it - the danger lies less in one’s credibility than in thinking too much of oneself.

The Roman Catholic church, for doctrinal reasons, invented the concept of papal infallibility. That has proved an unfortunate precedent for secular counterparts. Today, elected leaders believe that their judgement is infallible, their actions beyond question, and their decisions facsimiles of law. Many become prisoners of their own vanity. Some, insecure of their own judgement, allow themselves to be cocooned within the suffocating coils of sycophancy, letting others auto-suggest their opinions. Too often, they are unaware that they are the objects of assiduous study by their watchful underlings.

Many years ago, the late Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was conducting a political meeting at the house of a provincial PPP stalwart. To impress his leader, he placed a plate of out-of-season grapes before her. To his chagrin, she ignored the offering. Suddenly, one of the party elders whisked the plate away. Out of sight, he removed each grape from its stalk and then re-presented the plate, with a fork. This time, she consumed the grapes without demur.

"How did you know that is how Mohatarma likes her grapes?" the host asked the party elder. "My friend," the man replied, "I have done a PhD on the Bhuttos.”

If prime minister Imran Khan was to examine the credentials of his cabinet members, he would discover many with undisclosed PhDs, earned by studying and pandering to the whims of their previous masters.

It will soon be a year since he was sworn in (and sworn at by the disgruntled opposition) as our prime minister. Will he, as the Chief Executive, present the equivalent of an annual report on the performance of his government to his voters, if not to parliament?

Let us remind ourselves of the composition of our highest echelon of governance which, like our population, has been growing exponentially over the past year. The prime minister now has 28 full ministers or ministers of state in his cabinet. In addition he has five key Advisers – one on Commerce & Textile Industry, Industries & Production, and Investment; another on Finance and Revenue; a third on Institutional Reforms & Austerity; a fourth on Establishment; and a fifth who is seriously underemployed on Climate Change.

Orbiting around them are 15 Special Assistants on macro-subjects such as Social Protection & Poverty Alleviation and on Political Affairs, as well as micro-topics including Capital Development Authority Affairs and on Ministries of Water Resources, Power and Petroleum in Balochistan. Forty-eight in all, without counting informal confidants who rule (not reign) in Islamabad and Lahore.

One can understand why it may be difficult for Imran Khan to remember the names of every minister or his or her portfolio, especially when so many sit below the horizon during cabinet meetings. However, is it not time for each of the prime minister’s team to disclose before the public a one-pager on what they were mandated to do by him when they assumed office a year ago, and what they have achieved during that year?

There was a time when the Annual Development Programme was the tool of such fiscal and administrative oversight. Federal Ministries, Divisions and administrative units under their control were required to appear and to explain their past performance, outline their plans for the future, but most importantly justify their budgetary claims on the national exchequer. This enabled the Government to determine priorities and then allocate resources according to national imperatives. Attendees saw many a grandiose scheme reduced to ash and ministerial egos shrunk to human proportions.

The Planning Commissions in both Pakistan and India have been relegated, like statues of the British Raj, to a forgotten corner of history. In India, the economic self-sufficiency of states made the centralised World Bank planning model of the 1950s redundant. In Pakistan, we have yet to achieve the requisite level of provincial maturity, devolution under the 18th Amendment notwithstanding. The present economic laissez-faire, one suspects, has been compounded by the decision to allow ministers to approve projects within their own ministries without sending summaries to the cabinet for consideration. Who, in fact, does control the purse-strings in Islamabad?

For the prime minister, accountability is the punitive cane only for use against the PML-N and the PPP leadership. The return of moneys looted by them remains his obsession. His sycophants meanwhile insist that his personal integrity should be the only benchmark of his performance. They do him a disservice. They should remember that while ‘mountains of gold would not seduce some men, yet flattery would break them down.’[1] 

 

F. S. AIJAZUDDIN

[Dawn, 1 August 2019] 



[1] Henry W. Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth (1887). 

 
01 August 2019
 
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