Dr. Hassnain Javed
June 21, 2018
The need for a caretaker government stems from the inherent concept of transparency while engaging in the process of ensuring oversight for the electoral infrastructure. This need can feature different dynamics with regards to the prevalent form of government in any given country.
The dynamics for a presidential form of government’s caretaker setup will differ from that of parliamentary democracies. Normally, when an elected government or official setup completes its tenure, a caretaker setup is required to take over the reins for a specific time frame, to ensure free and fair, transparent elections.
Our political parties are in place under the parliamentary form of government, leaders of which decide upon a unanimous team that is supposed to run the government for the time until the elections take place.
The caretaker setup is considered the driving force behind ensuring that elections take place without any hiccups. From the prime minister to the cabinet, to the provincial ministers and their respective cabinets and technocrats — this setup is responsible for the day-to-day affairs of the state.
People often question the term technocrat because it seems like a loaded word, but what exactly does it refer to? The answer is simple: these individuals are not career politicians and have little to no connection to mainstream politics. Such individuals normally hold technical or practical expertise in certain fields, necessary to run the affairs of the government. This includes economics, foreign affairs, education, etc.
The academia in this case serves as an additional armoury — one that is required when combining it with the practical aspects of governance.
A technocrat government is formed through a consultation process; a system of governance is finalised on and the main structure or pillars of the government remain intact. It is important to note that only the governing infrastructure experiences a major shift of players and the lower administration reporting under ministries or the bureaucratic setup is reshuffled only after the technocrats are sworn in.
During this phase, no major policy shift can be borne whereas decisions to improve the status quo and resulting decisions can be taken. This change is generally temporary, can be in place if the elected government of the day loses credibility, and has to apply for a fresh mandate and/or if the country is going through a regular electoral process, whereby elections are being held. Here, the technocrats represent a particular responsibility in their respective roles, and are chosen on basis of specialisation and their past credentials and performance in their respective fields.
The practice mostly stems from Europe, where parliamentary democracies have been in place under the rather symbolic supervision of their monarchs. Poland, Slovakia and others have been familiar with this process as interim setups have been there. Apart from that, the UK also boasts about a Westminster democracy model that also features a temporary form of government when the elections are to be held.
Pakistan, amongst the Asian bloc, also represents a setup where a technocrat/caretaker government is sworn in for a maximum period of 90 days that is then responsible to conduct fresh and fair general elections in the country.
The panel that is nominated by the leader of the house (PM) and the leader of opposition in the parliament is related to the federal setup that serves as the highest authority and the provincial setups are also answerable to the centre. The government comes in place usually before the designated time (if the government completes its full year term, pun intended).
Some argue that this is the best form of government if given a bit of more time, especially in this part of the world. Since, the well-informed and intellectual individuals with an area of expertise are expected to deliver in an efficient manner.
Not just this but lack of political affiliations also serves as a plus point in the larger scheme of things. Since the political ramifications can be dire if the connections are sought and therefore, the integrity factor comes into question thereafter. Moreover, the relevant knowledge of the field also allows for expert opinion that can shape the path for the national economy for a pivotal turn. While the primary purpose of the caretaker technocratic government remains to be ensuring elections are on time and transparent, the additional advantages that this carries can certainly transform the direction of any country.
An example in this case can be taken from the recent government in Pakistan, where poor financial decisions have not only cost the country dearly, but have also brought the country to the verge of another bailout program. External debt of over $92 billion dollars in record time and an ever-increasing circular debt has hampered the economic growth of the country severely; prompting an energy crisis that requires immediate and consistent attention.
While the newly formed caretaker setup is new to this problem and may not offer a long-term solution straightaway, their step to improvise on the advice of technical personnel is certainly a step in the right direction. Caretaker administrators are also the best political, economic and law academicians and therefore, have a strong grip over their field. Not only this, but their vast experience with international organisations and within the country institutions adds to the cause and is expected to help Pakistan recover, at least in the short-run.
However, for a country that is stricken by consistent influence of Martial Laws over the years, the first and foremost duty for the technocrat government remains to uphold free and fair elections so that the transition of power is not only smooth but timely. Their hands are also tied by the bounds of law to not inflict massive changes to the entire infrastructure of the economy or that of any other sector.
Lastly, one can debate at a certain level that the effectiveness of the caretaker and technocrat governments maybe subjective, but in Pakistan this experiment for a longer span of time can also come in handy.
Policy implementation at the highest level, with precision and with an attitude that it serves the country’s best interest, can change things around. If the constitution allows for a span change for these interim governments, then this should be empowered and considered upon.\
Introducing technical expertise to the equation might result in betterment for the country as a unit and might allow for a systematic design inclusion on a sustainable level for a consistent socio-economic growth of the country.
Moreover, issues like the economy, education, resources management, industries, business and interior can be improved if a career politician is not given weightage over a technocrat setup.
One can argue that an elected individual is more of a representative of the people at any level, but an induction of an interim setup featuring technocrats for a limited time period (more than 90 days) can pave way for some long-term benefits. The caretakers can achieve much more than just holding of general elections.