Eyebrows raised: Consultant appointed acting chairman of PSDP meetings

Officials argue consultant cannot head such review meetings in place of minister


Shahbaz Rana February 03, 2018
The adviser is a private person and in no capacity can chair a meeting in place of minister, or deputy chairman planning commission as his appointment is illegal. PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD: In a bizarre move, the Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform has made a consultant alternative chairperson of the ongoing mid-year review meetings of Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) worth Rs5.6 trillion, avoiding merit and compromising accountability.

An official correspondence of the ministry showed that the planning ministry was also forcing the grade-21 officer to report to the consultant whose contract is equal to grade-20.

The consultant, who allegedly is occupying the post of adviser development budget, was not competent to chair a meeting of senior officers. The adviser cannot chair meetings that are attended by grade-21 officers from all the federal ministries and divisions.

“The Planning, Development and Reform secretary has instructed over telephone that mid-year review of the PSDP 2017-18 will be chaired by the adviser development budget as per pervious practice,” according to a letter written by the joint secretary administration of the planning ministry.

The secretary has also observed that any contravention of the instructions will be viewed 'seriously', according to the letter.

The importance of the PSDP review meetings can be gauged from the fact that the regular chairman of these meetings is the minister for planning and in his absence the planning secretary.

But the joint chief economist operations of the ministry argued that the adviser development budget was a “private person” and could not be given the responsibility of chairing such an important meeting.

The secretary’s decision to make the adviser development budget alternative chairman was contrary to an earlier claim of the planning ministry spokesman in which he maintained that the adviser was not using any financial or administrative powers.

Officials in the ministry said the mid-year review meetings of the PSDP were of serious nature and could not be handed over to a consultant.

The mid-year review of the PSDP is ongoing to gauge physical and financial progress on around 580 development schemes. The purpose of the review meetings is to make adjustments in these projects for their timely completion.

Adviser development budget Asif Sheikh had retired from government service in March 2008 after reaching the age of 60 years. The senior most officer of the Economist Group, who happens to be Joint Chief Economist Dr Ali Bat Khan, has already gone to the Islamabad High Court against the role of the adviser development budget in the PSDP.

PSDP falls under the domain of joint chief economist operations, but he has been sidelined, said the officials.

According to the court petition, the adviser got last extension from former prime minister Yusaf Raza Gilani that expired in February 2013. But Sheikh is not only serving as the adviser development budget, but is also using administrative and financial powers, according to internal communication of the Ministry of Planning. The ministry’s spokesman has in the past denied that the adviser was sitting illegally, saying “contractual appointments are done in accordance with a system.”

Published in The Express Tribune, February 3rd, 2018.

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