In yet another case of violating laid down procedures, the Planning Commission is pushing to appoint hand-picked Khalid Riaz as Chief Economist of Pakistan by seeking waivers of rules that are meant to ensure competent people fill the top slots through competition and a transparent procedure.
The candidate has been chosen by the top management of the Planning Commission (PC) without following the formal procedure of placing an advertisement for the post, an obligation for hiring top executives from the private sector.
Planning Commission is known to bypass rules when it comes to appointment of top executives. Current Member Infrastructure Ghulam Mohayuddin Marri, Member Science & Technology Dr Samar Mubarakmand, Member Implementation and Monitoring General (Retd) Shahid Niaz and Member Social Sector Saba Gul Khattak were all appointed after some guards were let down.
The Chief Economist of Pakistan seat has been lying empty for almost a year after Dr Jafer Qamar resigned as he remained alienated from domestic economic issues. Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Dr Nadeemul Haque was allegedly behind Qamar’s appointment who was brought from the US in August 2010. Qamar’s appointment was also made after some rules were removed from the hiring procedure. The move proved to be a mistake as he did not have economic policy making experience in Pakistan.
Historically, the chief economist position is a grade 22 post for the economist group of civil servants, however, the authorities are not interested to appoint any of the currently senior officials serving. One of the senior officials of the economist group is serving as cconomic adviser Finance Ministry, anotherhas been placed in the National Tariff Commission by former finance minister Shaukat Tarin to create space for his friend Sakib Sherani while another senior officer is serving in the Planning Commission as joint economic adviser.
“Riaz Khalid’s name is still at the proposal stage. A summary is pending with Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh for a decision,” said Ishfaqullah Khan, spokesperson for the Commission in a terse response. He said that since Pervez Tahir left the post of chief economist about six years ago, the economic section of the Commission has been directionless.
The Planning Commission has not advertised the post, said Asif Bajwa Secretary planning Commission while talking to The Express Tribune. No search committee was formed to find at least three suitable candidates for recommendation to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, a followed practice.
Sources said the the Planning Commission has requested the Finance Minister to advise Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to exempt a few rules and make way for appointment of Riaz Khalid as chief economist.
The office of the Auditor General of Pakistan has framed numerous audit objections in familiar cases where appointments were made by bypassing rules. In cases where exemption was not granted by the premier, the audit recommended recovering the amount spent on pays and perks of irregular appointees.
The chief economist post requires diversified experience in the areas of economics, trade, poverty, inflation, fiscal and monetary policy making. The job becomes more challenging when the country is passing through critical times. Any mistake in choosing an inappropriate person could hurt the policy making, said a senior official of the Commission.
In a testimony to a parliamentary committee, Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh in a cautious policy statement said that the country was passing through difficult times, requiring careful management.
Since 2010 – when the incumbent deputy chairman decided to abandon five-year economic plan document – there is no economic policy paper suggesting broader economic policy guidelines. Last May, the National Economic Council approved New Growth Strategy but despite lapse of one year, the Planning Commission has failed to present a workable implementation strategy.
The involvement of the earlier hand-picked chief economist Dr Jafer Qamar can be gauged from the fact that his name is nowhere in the list of core members involved in preparing the New Growth Strategy document despite the fact that in May 2011 Qamar was serving as Chief Economist of Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 19th, 2012.