Why do parties accept ‘strangers’ as finance ministers?
The ruling PTI has decided to get Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin elected as a member of the Senate (either from Sindh or Punjab) to meet a constitutional requirement under which an unelected person cannot hold a cabinet seat for more than six months.
Since the party has sufficient numbers in both provinces, it will not be difficult for it to have the chevron pinned on him.
But a question arises why out of 157 MNAs and 25 Senators of the PTI (and dozens of others belonging to the coalition partners) not a single person is considered capable of supervising the most important portfolio of finance?
Also, while awarding party tickets before the 2018 elections why nobody suitable for this slot had been awarded ticket - and got elected?
It should be a matter of grave concern for a party that took more than two decades to prepare itself to come to power.
The PTI had Asad Umar to shoulder this responsibility – and he also performed this role from Aug 20, 2018 to April 18, 2019.
However, for reasons best known to the prime minister, the portfolio was assigned to Dr Hafeez Shaikh, a man who was not a party man. He remained advisor during April 18, 2019 to December 2020. Then he stayed as federal minister from December 11, 2020 to March 29, 2021.
The PTI had tried to get him elected as a Senator from Islamabad, a seat for which the entire National Assembly is the Electoral College. Former prime minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, under whom he had served as finance minister, was his rival on this seat.
(After getting elected as a Senator, Mr Gilani also tried to become the chairman of the Upper House of parliament. But the powers-that-be crafted a strategy which enabled Balochistan’s Sadiq Sanjrani to retain the mantle. The leader from Multan is now the opposition leader, a situation beyond anyone’s imagination).
This manifests that for PTI, electability – and no specific expertise - was the only consideration at the time of award of tickets.
Unfortunately, this is also the case with other parties.
The same Shaukat Tarin was finance minister during the PPP rule. He held the portfolio from October 8, 2008 to February 2, 2010.
Then this role was performed by Abdul Hafeez Shaikh from March 18, 2010 to February 19, 2013.
The party got him elected to the Upper House.
This also establishes the scarcity of economic experts even in the PPP, the party’s tall claims of having specialists of all fields, notwithstanding.
During the Benazir Bhutto’s first term as prime minister, Ehsanul Haq Piracha was picked for finance ministry despite the fact that he was alien to this field. He remained finance minister from December 4, 1988 to August 6, 1990.
When Benazir Bhutto came to power for a second time after defeating the PML-N, she herself retained the portfolio from January 26, 1994 to October 10, 1996.
Then for a short while the portfolio remained with Sindh’s Naveed Qamar from October 10, 1996 to November 5, 1996.
Superfluous to point out that he too did not belong to this field.
The PML-N is the only party which had its own people for this portfolio.
Mr Sartaj Aziz and Ishaq Dar worked as finance ministers during the PML-N’s three terms. It is because of their presence that the party did not have to accommodate any ‘stranger’.
During the first party term, Sartaj Aziz was finance minister from Aug 6, 1990 to July 18, 1993.
Then he held the same portfolio from Feb 25, 1997 to Aug 6, 1998.
After him, the crown went to Ishaq Dar from November 6, 1998 to October 12, 1999.
When Gen Musharraf overthrew the PML-N government in October 1999, Shaukat Aziz descended from somewhere and remained finance minister from November 9, 1999 to Nov 15, 2007.
The successor of Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali retained the portfolio even during his premiership.
The period between 2002 and 2008 is regarded as the one of the PML-Q as this party was the main supporter of Gen Musharraf. After initial few years, the rebels belonging to the PPP also joined hands with the General, mainly to escape accountability.
This means the PML-Q and the PPP deserters also did not have the knowhow for finance because of which Shaukat Aziz continued to call the shots.
During the second half of the PTI’s term, Shaukat Tarin has been brought to the fore, ignoring all others in the party and the coalition partners. He took over as finance minister on April 17, 2021.
There is no doubt that he will be elected through a laid down procedure after which he will perform this role till the pleasure of the prime minister and the backers of the cricketer-turned-politician.