Situationer: Technocrat set-up — a problem or solution?

WITH the economic situation getting worse by every passing day and IMF’s tough conditions yet to be implemented, an option of a “long interim set-up of technocrats” is echoing in the country’s political circles, being touted as a panacea for the tough decision-making that an elected government would perhaps want to avoid, given the circumstances.

However, no one in the government or the opposition is sure where such an idea was floated from, and both sides have rejected the option, calling it “unconstitutional”.

Though former chairman of the Federal Board of Revenue Shabbar Zaidi has backed the idea, he remained guarded about revealing who the architect of the proposal was, where it originated from and how it could be implemented?

Usually, an interim government comes for a short period of time to hold general elections when the five-year term of a government ends.

Some believe the formation of an interim set-up of technocrats sometime in March next year will not be “unconstitutional”, as the interim government (for the period of three months) will have to be in place by July if general elections are to be held in October next year.

Some media reports suggest that the proposal about bringing technocrats to power is being “seriously considered” in power circles as a political regime cannot take the “bold” decisions which are being deemed the need of the hour.

Talking to Dawn, Mr Zaidi said that bringing in an interim set-up of technocrats was imperative because certain “tough” decisions had to be taken, which would otherwise be blocked by political compulsions.

“The present government has already wasted a lot of time but they have not taken much-needed decisions and the country cannot afford this attitude anymore,” he added.

Not only the current PDM government, but the last PTI regime also failed to take extraordinary steps due to political expediency, he said.

He claimed that the decision to “bring in technocrats” had not been taken by the ‘establishment’, but rather “a group of patriotic Pakistanis who still have some influence in powerful circles”, adding that they had reached the conclusion that such a set-up is essential to get the country through these testing times.

Giving an example, Mr Zaidi said recently, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had announced after a cabinet meeting that markets in the country would be closed at 8pm, but the decision has yet to be implemented to date.

“Similarly, tough IMF conditions regarding increase in electricity and gas tariffs and doing away with unbridled circular debt in power sector have to be met to keep ourselves in the Fund programme, otherwise the country will have to face the music.”

Mr Zaidi said the interim set-up could take overdue tough decisions because it will have no fear to face people like politicians. “Both PTI and present governments have tested their policies which turned out to be a futile exercise. Now, give a chance to technocrats to take decisions in the best interest of the country which has come on the verge of default.”

He said politicians had another option of forming a national government, but they disagreed and now “the only way to take tough decisions was formation of an interim setup as soon as possible”, most suitably by March 2023.

Prominent economist and former PTI finance minister Shaukat Tarin, on the other hand, did not back the idea of a long interim setup of technocrats and believed that early elections were the only solution to the prevailing economic and political crisis in the country.

“Seventy-five per cent of the population is asking for fresh elections. Let’s listen to them. The Constitution doesn’t allow any such dispensation. To the best of my knowledge, it can be for three months,” he added.

Asked if he was contacted by some circles for joining the interim setup, Mr Tarin replied in the negative, saying he did not believe that the government of technocrats could rid the country of the prevailing economic crisis.

“Difficult economic decisions need political support. Moreover, investors and lenders would like to see the support of the people. A three-month interim government would clear the air and help, but a long-term one will not,” he added.

After a week-long debate on the possibility of technocrats’ government, Law Minister Azam Tatar also appeared before the media on Friday and categorically denied any such option and termed it “unconstitutional”.

Talking to reporters, he said an interim government will come when the present regime will complete its term, adding that “there is no provision of technocrats’ government in the Constitution”.

He, however, said if the National Assembly was dissolved before time, then elections will be held in 90 days and when it was dissolved after the completion of its term, then elections will take place in 60 days.

Responding to a question, the law minister said the long interim government of technocrats might be a desire of some people and decision to improve economy could be taken within the framework of the Constitution.

But in the view of legal expert and former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani, there is no provision in the Constitution for such a setup.

In a statement, he said: “The Constitution provides for a caretaker Cabinet in terms of Article 224… wherein, such a [setup] is activated on the dissolution of the assembly on completion of its term, or in case it is dissolved under Article 58 or Article 112… then the president or the governor, as the case may be, shall appoint a caretaker cabinet in consultation with the prime minister and or chief minister and the leader of the opposition in the outgoing National Assembly or provincial Assembly, as the case may be.”

“The Constitution further provides that if the Prime Minister or the Chief Minister, as the case may be and the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly or the Provincial Assembly, as the case may be, cannot arrive at an agreement then the provisions of Article 224 A, Constitution, 1973, shall be triggered,” he said.

In his view, there is no other provision in the Constitution for a caretaker cabinet, nor can any such provision be provided for by way of subordinate legislation.

Media reports suggest the option for an interim government was given to Imran Khan through President Arif Alvi and other mutual friends, but he rejected the ‘offer’.

The former premier is not in favour to extend the tenure of the interim government as, according to him, the responsibility of the interim setup is to conduct general elections in the country only.

Published in Dawn, December 31st, 2022


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