‘Learning on the Job – Politicians’

All offices and positions demand minimum educational qualification; some years of experience and a host of core competencies relevant to the assignment. In consequence of this need and approach, there is the demand for requisite education and training. To acquire the appellation of being a ‘professional’ there are basic educational requirements, coupled with specific certifications. Doctors, engineers, pilots, educationists, teachers, bureaucrats, bankers, etc., all have to necessarily qualify for acceptance as such by passing the minimum educational qualification; alongside professional examination certifications. Even the armed services require testimony of minimum education, following which the necessary training is imparted, with focus on skills development. All professions, regardless of which segment of economy or society they belong, require educational and technical qualifications. The only exceptions are politicians’. They require neither minimum education nor any certification of technical proficiency to be labeled and recognized as a politician. In sharp contrast to all professions, politics require no formal college or university education. President Musharraf attempted to impose a minimum qualification for the parliamentarians- he had to backtrack! At that point of time, there was a massive surge of ‘fake degrees’- its need reached its zenith, when one politician commented and said, “A degree is a degree, even if it’s fake”.

By implication, in our land of the pure, the entire Parliament, depending on popular vote, can be of illiterates. Anyone who is able to manage requisite votes, qualifies to be a parliamentarian─ uneducated and untrained. Hence, we see the offspring of politicians emerge as ‘heir-apparent’, with no skill, knowledge or sometimes even education. Their claim to fame is they have ‘followers’ who vote for them. Only the populace knows best, why they vote? (Recommended reading is George Orwell’s Animal Farm).

Bureaucrats, with whom the ministers have to necessarily deal, have to their credit education and experience. After every few years, to qualify for enhanced responsibilities, they have to attend courses at the Civil Services Academy. The same is true of the armed forces, whose officers have to pass several different types of courses at the National Defence University, before moving up the hierarchy. Politicians, who are invariably untrained, therefore are at the mercy of the Secretary of the Ministry he or she has to govern and run. A co-civil servant of my father, had the audacity to alter the words of Alfred Tennyson, where in his composition, The Brook, he says, “Men may come, or men may go, I go on forever” to “Ministers will come, ministers will go, the Bureaucrats will go on…”

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No political government can deliver upon its promises and pledge made to the nation, without active support and participation of the bureaucracy. Japan and Italy are cases in point; in the last 50 years, each had more than 40 prime ministers, but the countries progressed, because the economic vision was prepared and delivered by the bureaucrats. This was also true of our beloved country until the late 1960s. No wonder therefore that our beloved Prime Minister recalls that era with much pride.

Recently, Imran Khan made some honest remarks about his and his team’s state of preparedness for running the Government. He was absolutely right that it must have taken a lot of time to understand how bureaucracy and governance works in our country. In short, he admitted that he wasn’t trained to be Prime Minister and that he is learning on the job, and admittedly, he is really learning fast. I, as a fellow countryman of his, not only admire him for his honest admission but also for being bold enough to say so. Following the admission, the opposition has gone into overdrive to equate his statement to a fatal note of political suicide. Nay, it is not suicidal to speak the truth; albeit it is a characteristic not much in favor with most politicians. Sadly, all those who are calling him incompetent have no credentials of having held any office of any sorts, except that they wrongly believe ‘leadership’ is a trait that qualifies for inheritance. Sad, but true.

Since 1971, barring ZAB, Benazir Bhutto and Gen Pervez Musharraf, none of our leaders had any clue of the many dimensions of political economy. During the period 1977 to year 2000, the wily bureaucrats, who took turns to become ministers of finance or even Central Bank Governors, said very little, and did very little about the economy. Our GDP growth trends speak for themselves – under democratic (?) dispensation, the growth rate has been in the region of 2-3 percent; while under the patronage of (some form) of the armed forces it has hovered between 6-8 percent per annum. No further corroboration required!

Politicians need to be trained. The concept of ‘Shadow Cabinet’ of the opposition as practiced in western democracies must be seriously considered. If there is a parallel minister in waiting of a specified domain of activity, how much interesting would the debates be in both Houses of Parliament. Imran Khan had at least one or two close associates marked as ‘Shadow Ministers’, but even they failed to deliver. A shadow minister has to be not merely proficient but even more competent than the serving minister.

Those politicians who read voraciously are capable of giving vision and direction. They have to demonstrate their adeptness at handling policy making by participation. They ought to have the ability to write file notes and not merely append their signatures to ‘summaries’ presented by bureaucracy. Reading books again does not appear to be the ‘in-thing’ with most politicians. The comments they make on numerous TV Channels serve as a good reminder, that ignorance is bliss!

Imran Khan, in making not an admission but a comment, that there is in our country, no proper process of briefing the incumbent to an office, was absolutely correct─ in fact hit the bull’s eye. The sub-committees of the Parliament must have SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) as members, who regardless of party affiliations must offer good counsel to the Prime Minister. Abraham Lincoln, had at least three cabinet members, who were not from his party and were virulent adversaries during election time; but once in the cabinet, they served their country, not the party. Lincoln’s take on this was, since they are the best brains, America must put them to use. Is it too much to expect such democracy in our political arena? Possibly, yes.

The nation hopes that what Imran Khan is learning, he shall pass it to others This begs an answer; is he preparing his back up? ‘Time and Tide waits for no man.’ Most political leaders fall prey to the temptation of being classified ‘what after him?’ So therefore they have no succession plan A or B ready. But after any self-professed diehard belief of indispensability, life continues, after their departure… Sometimes for better.

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Sirajuddin Aziz
The writer is a freelance columnist.
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