In the wake of the NRO debacle, Prime Minister Gilani stood on the floor of the National Assembly on Tuesday and, according to a report in this newspaper, vowed that his ‘government would seek early restoration of parliament’s powers, tackle people’s pressing problems and launch an austerity drive.’ Forgive us if we are not wowed by the prime minister’s vow.
Let’s start with what is under the prime minister’s control, at least partially, the latter issues of the ‘people’s problems’ and an ‘austerity drive.’ For a government that has been in power since March 2008, a promise to tackle the people’s problems and undertake an austerity drive in November 2009 sounds belated, to say the least. And the fact that it comes in the aftermath of yet another political setback for the government makes it appear a cynical attempt, a poor one at that, to move on from recent embarrassment.
Only a few months ago, the government had the opportunity to present its second budget in parliament. If austerity is needed in November, and it is, then why not do it the right way, by crafting a deliberate, well-thought-out policy on government expenditure at the time of the budget? The prime minister could at the very least have set a good example by drastically cutting back on the expenditures of his office, which no doubt would have been a drop in the ocean compared to the financial problems the government faces, but would at least have given his promises some credibility.
And about addressing the ‘people’s problems,’ headlined by inflation, unemployment and security woes: promises are not policies. If the prime minister is promising change, then that means the policies to date have been inadequate, in which case major debate needs to be initiated within the government about what policies can correct the problems the quickest.
Next, the issue of the ‘restoration of the parliament’s powers.’ The prime minister couldn’t say it, but the PPP co-chairperson, the prime minister’s party boss and the country’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, is the primary reason the constitution has not been amended as yet. Twice Mr Zardari has gone before parliament and vowed to give away his powers, but other than the time-honoured gambit of appointing a parliamentary committee to desultorily look at the issue, nothing has been done. The time for promises is over. The country needs leadership, it needs policies and it needs change. All is not lost yet, but it may well be soon for the present dispensation unless the leadership of the PPP changes its ways, and changes them quickly.