Acting-Ministers for One & Half Years Now!

My op-ed on Daily Outlook Afghanistan, March 17

It has been more than one and half year that six ministries are being run by acting-ministers who were rejected by parliament for several rounds. Last year after introducing his cabinet, President Karzai had tough times getting his ministerial nominees approved from parliament. It took three slots of nominations, but the same people coming again and again were rejected consecutively by the lower house. Though ministers with important portfolios were approved, but still six remained a matter of bargaining game between the President and the lower house. Our President is so stubborn that he didn’t give a damn to the will of parliament and appointed those same rejected candidates as acting ministers to run the cabinet positions. Then it was the period of parliamentary elections crisis as tenure of the lower house was extended.

Acting-ministers are to be appointed at an emergency or time of crisis when there is no parliament, or other hurdles. And it is only for maximum of one month. Behind all the long and disputing parliamentary elections followed by a crisis of the results and then another stubbornness of the President with setting up the pity elections Special Court for allegations of fraud, the acting-ministers faced no question on their unconstitutional service as there was not a parliament. That cannot be an excuse for the violation of the constitution by the President himself, who does not shy to blame foreigners very blatantly for “interference” in the implementation of our constitution, while himself ruining it under his feet. Until the previous parliament was working, the acting ministers completed about six months, while the law allows the acting-ministers to run the offices for only one month.

Now it has been weeks the new parliament has started its work with their speakers and deputies elected. But the President is, as we say in local slang, “acting dumb” on his six acting-ministers. What makes the President think he can go on with it for long? It’s very ridiculous that such a violation of the constitution is happening by the President who blames others for that.

Last year in May, when it was about some months that the acting-ministers were serving in offices, in an op-ed on this page, I had asked “how long will it remain so?” The issue was followed in media but lost in dispute caused in the aftermath of the parliamentary elections. Now it is exactly one and half year that the acting-ministers are working as cabinet members. The other day members of lower house of the parliament asked President Karzai to introduce his cabinet members to be replaced with the acting-ministers. The new parliament has started an active term with the first achievements it has already made. The six ministries are not the only offices run by acting-heads, the Supreme Court has an acting chief.

It’s unbelievable how the rulers have made a mess of the system with no regard for constitution and rule of law. The budget of new solar year has part of suggestions and planning by the acting-ministers who have been rejected by the parliament! This is the way our rulers are making good of governance. That makes not only unconstitutional, but also hurdles in approval of the budget from parliament and its implementation. While presenting the budget to the house, Finance Minister Zakhilwal was saying they should approve it on urgent basis because of the delay due to the crisis with inauguration and elections’ results. But how could it be done when the entire budget is based on planning of acting-ministers working beyond the legal tenure they are allowed under the constitution. Simply they are working illegally! And they have no right to be implementing the budget after approval. The MPs should not hurry and debate the budget thoroughly as there are much to review and suggest changes. The distribution of development budget allocated for different sectors and regions are not balanced. Zakhilwal told the parliament 60 per cent of the budget has been allocated for security and defense expenses. Its almost a double increase compared to last year, but it is needed due to rush of withdrawal and security transition to Afghan security forces by NATO and the US. About 20% is allocated for agriculture sector. Spending all 20 per cent on agriculture doesn’t make sense when a huge population is jobless and we need spending for job creating sectors, infrastructure development and health services. Education should be the top most priority, and MPs must make sure to review this.

MPs have asked President Karzai to introduce his cabinet members within two weeks to get vote of confidence. Now it will be the next interesting episode after the recent disputes between the house and the President on issues of inauguration and the establishment of Special Court for investigation of alleged fraud cases. Seeing his political alliances, the President would like to send the same ministers who are working right now as acting, for approval. It seems like the new house won’t repeat the previous episode of cabinet nominees getting vote of confidence.

There are reports that the President will soon dissolve the elections Special Court. A delegation of MPs met President Karzai last week asking for that, but he rejected saying he won’t “interfere” in “judicial process”. Then the MPs threatened with questioning many issues including the acting-ministers, acting chiefs of some departments and the Supreme Court. In a second meeting, the President had no option but to back down from all his previous statements and agreed to dissolve what he calls the tribunal. And a beautiful drop scene came on Wednesday when the head of the Constitution Oversight and Implementation Commission said, “The President can dissolve the tribunal”. Gul Rahman Qazi was saying “a person who can establish a court can also abolish it.” Ok fair, but why had your Commission kept mum on all the crisis during the last some weeks? When the Independent Elections Commission asked the Constitution Oversight Commission to explain its position on the establishment of the special court, the commission people didn’t respond. Now they are giving a cover to wash away the disgrace of the Government. Waheed Omer used to say President Karzai cannot interfere in the “judicial process” and will not dismiss the Special Court. And now pressures from the new parliament have changed that view, the President had asked the delegation of MPs not to utter the word of Special Court’s abolition with media. What is more funny is the vague statement of the Constitution Implementation and Oversight Commission saying “a person who can establish a court can abolish it.” Does that mean their stance is that the establishment of the court was fine according to the constitution, as is its abolition now? Well, who cares now!

 

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