After facing challenges, chief economist resigns


ISLAMABAD: After struggling to cope with the challenges of carving space in a bureaucracy-dominated Planning Commission and making efforts to come  up with realistic macroeconomic projections, Chief Economist Dr Nadeem Javaid has finally resigned.

Javaid is leaving the post of Chief Economist of the Planning Commission, which until a few years ago was considered a prestigious position, to join a university, according to sources in the commission. His tenure was due to end in November 2018.

Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Sartaj Aziz confirmed that Javaid had resigned but said the government had not accepted his resignation. Javaid had an offer from the private sector, Aziz said.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif had appointed Javaid as chief economist from the private sector about three and a half years ago by easing some rules.

Before his appointment, the government relaxed the experience condition from 25 years to 15 years. According to original job requirements, which were subsequently amended, the chief economist was also required to have at least 10 years of experience in economic policymaking.

During his almost three-and-a-half-year stint, Javaid had to struggle hard to make room for himself. The bureaucracy at times delayed the extension in his contract. He also faced resistance from the Economist Group as the slot of chief economist originally belonged to that group.

At one time, the Islamabad High Court stopped Javaid from working after the senior most officer of the Economist Group, Ijaz Wasti, challenged his appointment.

However, the officer was pressurised by some senior government officials to either withdraw the case or get ready to be transferred to Balochistan. Wasti caved in to the pressure and withdrew the case.

Historically, the chief economist’s position is a grade-22 slot. The Economist Group is one of the technocrat groups constituted under the Civil Service Reforms of 1973.

The group may once again try to reclaim its sole grade-22 slot as the appointment from the private sector has blocked promotions of senior officers to the next grade.

Responding to a question, Aziz said a person from the Economist Group could only be considered for the chief economist position if a good officer was found at the senior level. Chances are that the government will again advertise the post to hire talent from the private sector.

At present, Wasti is the senior most officer of the group. Dr Ali Bat Khan, Joint Chief Economist Operations, is junior to Wasti.

Khan has also gone to the Islamabad High Court against the government for alleged illegal appointment of the adviser development budget. Joint Chief Economist Macroeconomics Samiullah retired last week.

The Central Selection Board will meet next week to consider cases for promotion to grade-20 and 21. The planning ministry has sent names of Shoaib Bashir, Rai Nasir Ali Khan and Dr Mohammad Afzal for their promotion to grade-21.

Javaid struggled to play his role as chief economist effectively due to a strong finance ministry. For the last three years, the finance ministry has overshadowed the working of the Planning Commission as ex-premier Sharif, in his capacity as the National Economic Council (NEC) Chairman, would mostly listen to former finance minister Ishaq Dar in finalising the macroeconomic projections.

Planning Commission’s projections for unemployment, growth in exports and imports and current account deficit were turned down by the NEC every year.

There was also a dispute over the number of jobless people as Planning Commission’s estimates showed a significantly higher unemployment rate compared to what was published by the finance ministry.

Later, it was proven at the end of each fiscal year that Planning Commission’s projections were relatively realistic.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 5th, 2018.

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