In an unanticipated move, Prime Minister Imran Khan has ordered all advisers and special assistants in his cabinet to declare their assets. That should help fix a significant anomaly. As it is all members of the federal and provincial assemblies, some of whom go on to become ministers, are required to declare their assets at the time of the elections. Any advertent or inadvertent misstatement can land them in trouble. As a matter of fact, many opposition leaders have faced legal challenges on this account. But so far, no such prerequisite applied to unelected cabinet members.

It is common practice for provincial and federal governments in this country to induct a large number of unelected technocrats as well as out of job politicians in their cabinets. The present federal cabinet is no different. It includes five advisers and 14 special assistants. Some of them hold pivotal positions, making decisions that can be used for purposes other than public good. It is worth noting in the context that the order for assets declaration by unelected cabinet members has come in the wake of the sugar commission's much-awaited inquiry report, which implicates some elected as well as unelected holders of public office in wrongdoing. That though is not to question the integrity of any of the incumbents, but fallacy of inconsistency in the existing accountability system. The PM has tried to address that concern, though from what has appeared in the press not effectively enough.

As per his direction, all advisers and special assistants are to declare their assets to the Establishment Division with immediate effect. That office's standard operating procedure is to maintain the record of all annual declarations of assets held and acquired by government servants, with a copy forward to their respective ministries, divisions, and departments. In the present instance, the record may well end up with the Establishment Division, staying there unbeknown to the public. That surely won't serve the desired purpose. All declarations must be made public. The PM is a great advocate of transparency in matters pertaining to financial integrity. Even before the last general elections he had declared his own assets on his party's website for all to see also making it obligatory for other senior PTI leaders to do the same. He is expected to uphold that principle in all circumstances, including the present one. If reports about his order are the result of some confusion, it needs to be cleared. Instead of reporting to the Establishment Division, all unelected members of the cabinet must declare their assets publicly like their elected colleagues.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020