Underprivileged and underutilised economists

Economists Group lags far behind in perks and privileges available to other cadre groups

Shoukat Ali Randhawa January 30, 2023


The Economist Group of Pakistan was constituted in 1984 as a cadre group with a view to be a central body having permanent capacity and expertise for the provision of advice in the field of planning, public development programming and implementation.

The administration of the group has been placed at the Ministry of Planning, Development and Special Initiatives. The ministry also serves as the arm of Planning Commission.

The group has a huge membership of 17-22 grade officers. Entry in the group is at grade-17 through the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC).

Total strength of the group is 190 officers with the following breakup: From bottom to top, Research Officer (BS-17) 56, Assistant Chief (BS-18) 88, Deputy Chief (BS-19) 26, Chief (BS-20) 15 and Joint Chief Economist (BS-21) 5.

Out of the total strength, 65 posts in different grades are lying vacant at present, leaving 125 officers in place.

The Economists Group is a highly qualified group. An officer to enter in the group has to have a master’s degree in economics with at least second division or B grade with no third division in the entire academic career.

Factually, hardly any officer is below first division or A grade. Out of the 125 officers presently serving in the group from grade-17 to 21, there are 14 officers with a PhD degree and 31 have an M Phil degree from the international and national universities of repute.

A number of officers have an additional master’s degree in addition to the one as a basic requirement.

While the Economists Group is structured on a normal civil service pattern, it lags far behind in terms of perks and privileges available to other cadre groups. A few are mentioned below.

Promotions in the group are sluggish. The structural pyramid of the group is very broad at the bottom with a narrow pinnacle. Against 144 junior officers in BS-17 and 18, senior posts of BS-20 and 21 are only 20. Fresh induction into the group is not regular as in other groups.

Last batch of 26 research officers was recruited in 2017 and no appointment since then, although 46 seats of research officers are lying vacant.

For the post of chief (BS-20), 75% are filled through promotion and 25% are hired from open competition through FPSC. It is common for the officers of this group to take 18-20 years from BS-17 to 19.

Many officers retire at grade-19 level. Even examples of officers retiring in grade-18, after serving for three decades, do exist.

It is pertinent to mention that at present officers possessing higher level of qualification and professional expertise are mainly concentrated at the junior level, and working as research officers and assistant chiefs. However, chances of their promotion and progress are far and bleak. This factor results in inertia, lack of motivation and disinterest among these tiers.

A related issue is underutilisation of talent. Economists Group’s officers can be transferred and posted across ministries and divisions. It is not uncommon that the officers returning from foreign universities and institutions with specific skills are posted in offices requiring little economic and professional expertise.

This results in underutilisation of professional resources as well as wastage of financial resources incurred on training and human capital.

The post of Chief Economist (BS-22) belongs to the group, however, rules do permit to hire a chief economist from open market. This rule has been used widely to the disadvantage of the group.

Over the last two decades, only a couple of officers from the group have been lucky to be posted in this capacity, out of which one was in the chair for only a month and half at the verge of retirement.

Outsiders hardly develop sympathy and feelings of belonging to the group and usually keep themselves subservient to the political and nepotistic clout through which they get this posting.

The changes of persons serving on this post are frequent due to the changes in political regime and/or change of patronising bosses. This leaves constant void in terms of institutional capacity.

Another problem pertains to administration of the group, which is not in the hands of the group. There has been a common complaint among officers of the group that their promotion cases are not processed timely and adequately due to which a great deal of suffering and agony prevails all the time.

Normal financial perks, privileges and other facilities are not available to this group. The latest example is executive allowance.

The allowance, announced in last budget and effective from July 1, 2022, is 150% of the running salary which is admissible to grade 17-22 but in a discriminate manner. The allowance has been granted only to the selected administrative civil service groups.

The Economists Group has been deprived of this benefit. Frustration and resentment is so immense that the officers trained and committed to work head-down all the time were forced to go pen-down.

It was disturbing and depressing to see a coterie of brilliant minds standing agitated with placards in their hands begging for elimination of this discrimination. With a view to making the Economist Group more useful, following are a few suggestions.

The Economists Group, unique in professional sense, may not be structured on the usual grade system. It should be given an autonomous status having the elements of reward for serious contributors and accountability for deadwood.

Instead of using the normal vertical seniority criteria, having no regard for individual caliber and competence, the promotion and progress may be based on individual qualification, professional input, integrity and dedication of officers.

Till then it is suggested that complaints and concerns of officers of this highly competent group are addressed and redressed. Firstly, chief economist should be from the group with full authority of decision regarding professional advice and implementation.

Secondly, all promotions in the group should be smooth without any induction from outside at any level. Time-based move-over to next grade may be introduced.

Thirdly, officers of this group hardly get any foreign postings like commercial attaches, trade officers and economic ministers. They may be given equal opportunity in this regard.

Fourthly, this group be brought at par with other service groups in terms of financial benefits. The executive allowance should be made admissible to the group immediately effective from its initial date as announced in the budget.

The honourable Minister for Planning, Ahsan Iqbal, well known for his clear vision, initiative, and dynamic persona, already well versed with these issues may be expected to play a vital role in making the Economists Group a vibrant, scholastic and proficient advisory platform for the country.

The writer is the ex-joint economic adviser to the government of Pakistan


Published in The Express Tribune, January 30th, 2023.

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