Comment: The issue of Pakistan’s chief economist

Government not following system of merit-based appointment; putting in place minions instead

Shahbaz Rana August 03, 2014


Merit-based appointment, especially when it comes to key posts, is an area where the government has disappointed most.

Be it the appointment of governor of the State Bank or the latest move to put in place a minion at the prestigious post of chief economist of Pakistan.

In the past one year, the government has made many moves where a merit-based system was completely ignored in a bid to either appoint cronies at key posts or bring in professionally weak individuals who cannot take a stand in front of rulers. Unfortunately, this has promoted a culture of patronage that is in direct contrast to the merit-based system.

The result is that these sub-standard people are making dubious decisions and, in the process, hopes of strengthening key state institutions and departments are taking a massive hit.

Many state institutions deteriorated to a greater degree from 2008 to 2013 due to the same mistakes committed by the previous Pakistan Peoples Party-led government. The PPP earned a bad name by appointing persons like Adnan Khawaja as chairman of the Oil and Gas Development Company Limited. The state institutions have ruined even further.

The government’s latest move to appoint a relatively junior person as chief economist has again set off alarm bells. Reportedly, to fill the post, the Ministry of Planning, Development and Reforms has forwarded a summary to Prime Minister’s Office, recommending the names of Dr Mohammad Nadeem Javid, Dr Talat Anwar and Idrees Khawaja for the post.

The talk of the capital is that the government wants to appoint Dr Mohammad Nadeem Javid as the new chief economist. Dr Javid was inducted in the SBP in 2005 as OG-2 – an entry level post equivalent to grade 17. He went to France and acquired a PhD in Economics and MS in Innovation and Industrial Dynamics from the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis, France.

After returning from France, Dr Javid worked as an assistant professor and director of the Executive MBA programme at the Karachi School for Business and Leadership (KSBL). An assistant professor is treated either in grade 18 or 19 –levels of a senior section officer and deputy secretary respectively.

In total, he has an experience which is less than 10 years. But the job description requirements of the chief economist that the Planning Commission has advertised are that the applicant must be a PhD Degree holder in Economics from a reputed university or equivalent, at least 15 years solid experience in managing research programmes with around 10 years in a policy-related managerial position. He or she must have a track record of research on Pakistan in national and international research journals, while research work on emerging economies would be an added advantage.

For the post of the chief economist, he or she should be recognised locally and preferably internationally as a respected authority in high-level policy and/or research work related to development economics, impacting operational strategy, policy and programme development.

It is shocking that the government is considering to appoint Dr Javid as chief economist as this used to be a prestigious position in the past, says Dr Ashfaque Hasan Khan, a renowned economist. He says either the government is not interested in bringing in the right people or professionals are not willing to work with this government. Dr Khan says such people will serve the individuals at the expense of the state.

Historically, the chief economist position is a grade 22 post for the economist group of civil servants. The Economist Group, which is one of the technocratic groups constituted under the Civil Service Reforms of 1973, also lodged a protest with the government in August last year. The representation was given to Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms Ahsan Iqbal, and Secretary Planning Hasan Nawaz Tarar.

The group is of the view that the advertisement was in violation of recruitment rules of the Economist Group, notified in December 1984 and amended in 2011.

According to the rules, “The post of chief economist of basic pay scale 22 and all posts in pay scale 21 including posts of Joint Chief Economist, Economic Adviser (BS-21) shall be filled by promotion”. The group had demanded that the government appoint a senior officer of the group as Chief Economist of Pakistan instead of hiring someone from outside the group or from the private sector.

The post has been lying vacant since July 2011 after Dr Jaffer Qamar’s resignation. Dr Qamar too had been hired from the private sector but failed to fulfill the job requirements.

Earlier, the PML-N government had interviewed applicants including Dr Talat Anwar, senior research fellow at Comsats Institute of Information Technology (CIIT) Islamabad, Dr Khalid Riaz, head of department of management sciences also at CIIT, Dr Qazi Masood, serving at the department of management of Institute of Business Administration (IBA), Dr Sajjad Akhtar, a consultant, and Ali Bat Khan, the chief of International Trade and Finance in the Planning Commission.

It had rejected all these names. If one looks at the experience of these persons all these economists are more qualified and experienced than Dr Javid.

Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms defended the decision to recommend Dr Javid. “The choice is either to keep the post vacant or to have a trade off,” said Iqbal.

Iqbal said Dr Javid is relatively sound in modern economics and that is what the country needs. He acknowledged that the candidate is relatively young but said no one else was willing. “I tried to bring a reputed economist from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund but the attempt remained unsuccessful,” said Iqbal, adding that Dr Javid meets the requirement of a minimum of 15-year experience. “I’ve brought in the best people as members of the Planning Commission and, so far, no one has questioned my selection.”

Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2014.

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