The curse of centralisation


The decision by the Supreme Court to reject government’s petition of reviewing its earlier decision in which it held that the prime minister must take the approval of the cabinet before moving any legislation or taking any decision relating to finance and fiscal matters is a step in the right direction. This decision would go a long way in creating the institutional mechanisms for a more inclusive decision making process at the federal level. In a country that ostensibly has a democratic parliamentary form of government but in substance sits over an excessively centralised framework, such controls on individual decision making would nudge the country towards the realisation of an effective democratic polity.
The Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) controlled government is notorious for its penchant for centralised decision-making. In its drive to get work done fast and efficiently, it is often the case that, reportedly, all major decisions are made by a handful of party leaders, and implemented directly through the bureaucracy, with cabinet members having little say or role in the entire process. There are obvious advantages to this approach, as it mitigates delays in execution, and gives the party leadership direct control over important areas. However, this does not make up for the damage it does to institutional growth. And when it comes to matters related to finance, needless to say, decisions relating to them to a great extent determine the institutional power dynamics.
In a democracy, while the prime minister and his trusted advisors have the most important role to play in running the affairs of the country, important decisions are made with consultation with the cabinet. While in practice the process is not this neat and simple, but largely this gives cabinet ministers an active role in the decision-making process, and enables them for effective oversight of their departments in light of these roles. Thus, departmental roles and linkages organise themselves with elected ministers as both the de jure and the de facto heads of their departments. Moreover, compulsory consultation with the cabinet on such matters provides the impetus for government to appoint well-qualified cabinet members so that their contribution to such meetings would be meaningful and productive. This, in turn, also reflects itself in qualitatively better policy decisions, which would naturally be the product of a number of diverse views and opinions.