This is not cricket

By Raza Rumi

It is not surprising that Pakistan’s governance crisis has spilled over into all public domains. The latest arena for judicialising policy and its implementation is the good old game of cricket. True, not everyone thinks Najam Sethi should have accepted the responsibility to oversee the Pakistan Cricket Board. True, too, that I am affiliated with the paper that Sethi owns. But I intend to comment on organizational and judicial matters here that have nothing to do with the two matters noted above. My intent is not to write about PCB per se but about how difficult it has become to manage even ‘easier’ institutions such as the PCB. The ongoing judicial saga is but a microcosm of why Pakistan is in a deep mess. Ordinarily, the Prime Minister is well within its rights to make appointments. But unfortunately there are plenty of zealous petitioners ever ready to involve the courts and judicialise the process of governance.

The PCB for some time has been a subject of public concern and scrutiny. Cricket is news and therefore the media’s extraordinary focus is understandable. PCB’s current difficulties started in March 2013, when its former Chairman Zaka Ashraf sought to amend the Board’s constitution. Working with the Inter Provincial Coordination Ministry, Ashraf revamped the PCB constitution and in the process, allegedly, made it easier for him to nab a second term in office. Viewed as an appointee of President Asif Ali Zardari, Zaka Ashraf was doubly vulnerable. Thus a multitude of judicial proceedings have de facto ending up defining how PCB is to be governed.

A petition filed by Maj (retd) Nadeem Sadal in the Islamabad High Court against Ashraf worked; and the latter’s appointment was suspended by the court. The IHC judge also asked the IPC, instead of the Board of Governors of the PCB as laid out in the constitution, to nominate an ‘Acting Chairman’ while awaiting the resolution of the petition against Zaka Ashraf. After the 18thAmendment, the PM is now the de facto authority of PCB and thus Mian Nawaz Sharif appointed Najam Sethi as Acting Chairman to sort out PCB affairs.

Soon after Sethi was appointed as Acting Chairman, one Tahir Abdullah, stating that Sethi didn’t hold requisite qualifications for the post, filed another petition. Recently, Justice Siddiqi disposed off all petitions, amended the constitution and ordered Sethi to organize the PCB and hold elections for the office of Chairman within 90 days. The court also declared that Zaka Ashraf was no longer the chairman.

This decision should have moved matters on if the judgement not been quite problematic. For a start, it ordained that Sethi was no longer Acting Chairman but Caretaker Chairman, thereby curtailing his responsibilities and powers. According to the order, the Acting Chairman cannot decide on appointments including that of the Chief Selector and members of the Selection Committee. The Court also made some exceptional moves by striking down multiple provisions of the PCB constitution, which regulated the selection and nomination of the PCB chairman. Additionally, the honourable court has also designed an Electoral College system along with eligibility criteria for the election of the Chairman. Further, the Election Commission of Pakistan has been ordered to conduct the PCB election. The federal government has been asked to appoint a Pakistan Administrative Service officer as PCB’s Secretary. The court has also recommended that the selection committee should consist of cricket journalists, commentators and even citizens with in-depth knowledge of the game.

These directives appear to be extraordinary. Is it the job of the courts to run cricket affairs? This is an executive function and courts can issue guidelines but framing the rules and criteria can be viewed by many as an encroachment. Judicial overreach is further marring the capacity of the executive to deliver in the country.  During the previous regime, courts were ordering transfers and postings often naming ‘good’ and ‘bad’ officials. In the short term this may be an emergency fix given the executive’s historic failures, but this trend is even more problematic as it crowds out the possibilities of organic systemic reform.

PCB and the IPC have filed separate intra-court appeals, while an old petitioner has moved the court for the removal of Sethi as Caretaker Chairman. In these circumstances, how can the PCB and its Acting Chairman take decisions? Earlier, the PCB under Sethi announced Moin Khan as Chief Selector after Iqbal Qasim resigned. But the court says only an elected full-fledged Chairman has the power to do this selection process. So what is the PCB to do? Without a Chief Selector there is no Selection Committee and without a Selection Committee there is no team and without a team Pakistan cannot undertake various tours and series planned in the next three months. Similarly, PCB cannot start the process of auctioning media rights for all coming tours – which process needs to be completed in the next two months in order to get revenues from our matches with South Africa and England later in the year. The PCB cannot even finalise its 2013-2014 budget and get it approved by the Chairman and BoG. And without budget allocations, how can expenditures be sanctioned? In addition to not being able to pay players’ dues or renew contracts, perhaps the most potentially devastating blowback could arrive by way of the ICC, which strictly prohibits government influence and could realistically suspend Pakistani cricket.

Forget about the essential things to do, PCB at this point cannot even call for elections for the office of Chairman because the electoral college devised by Court (with representation from district and regional cricket associations, many of whom are currently in mired in legal disputes) is incomplete. Out of the 114 members to this new proposed electoral college (15 regions, 11 districts, 10 Departments), 37 seats are due to be filled via elections which await final rulings by various courts.

The honorable courts must not let their decisions impact the management of cricket. It is as problematic as the undue interference of the governments in the past. If legal complications continue to exist, the Federal government has the option to grant PCB non-profit status by making it a Section 42 company under the Companies Ordinance, thus wrapping up its constitution and all the legal issues that have emerged out of its operation and interpretation.

In short, the judicial model of management is fraught with inherent dangers. It’s not just about cricket. It is about the way Pakistan is being governed since populist-activist judges returned to benches after 2009. Pakistan’s Parliament must initiate a debate on this vital issue and reset the current trends. Of course the Parliament cannot turn the constitution secular as was once remarked by a Court but it surely can let executive authorities function without undue interventions.

Najam Sethi should be empowered to fulfill his mandate. Without effective powers he should not become the fall guy for a dysfunctional and gridlocked PCB. Mian Nawaz Sharif meanwhile can reflect on the new Pakistan that he has been tasked to govern for the next five years.

 

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