They are youngish, green, and lacking experience. They are the new members of Pakistan’s Planning Commission.
While their relatively inexperienced past has attracted controversy, I am more interested in what they will accomplish in their new roles in the future.
The Planning Commission last week unveiled its latest inductees, including the new chief economist. The new intake comprises the young and the old blood. This is a big change from the past where members of the Commission were mostly retirees, hanging on to the public sector, which instead needed fresh ideas and young minds.
Already, civil service’s economist group is gearing up to challenge the appointment of a young chief economist, who is not from the trusted, and rather rusted, group of senior public sector economists.
It is slim pickings when it comes to talent in Pakistan.
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The lack of career opportunities, security, and public goods, such as water supply and electricity, are among the reasons for the flight of talent from Pakistan.
The same factors have prevented reversing the brain drain. In such circumstances, hoping to attract talent of the same caliber as Professors Kaushik Basu and Raghurm Rajan, the two world renowned economists who returned to serve in India, is wishful thinking.
Instead of looking at the past accomplishments of the young inductees, why not focus on what they will do in the future? They cannot be any worse than those experienced ones who reigned over the Planning Commission in the past.
The appointment of the new Chief Economist, Dr. Muhammad Nadeem Javaid, who is an Assistant Professor of Economics at the Karachi School for Business and Leadership, has attracted controversy. The public sector economists, who have aspirations for the coveted position, may launch a legal challenge to block the appointment of the new Chief Economist. They should know, however, that counting years of service as proof of accomplishment and excellence is flawed logic and bad economics.
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It is true that Dr. Javaid is young and does not have extensive macroeconomics experience. His webpage lists only one publication, coauthored (probably) with his dissertation supervisor. Not much more evidence of scholarship for Dr. Javaid is listed in EconLit or similar indices. Some have alerted to his lack of experience in dealing with the IMF and other global lenders.
I, however, view this as a plus.
Countless public servants proudly boast in their CVs of how they have helped Pakistan accumulate billions of dollars in debt. Few, if any, can boast of how they have helped the nation get rid of the debt.
Other inductees have similar limitations. Dr Naeem uz Zafar, who obtained a doctorate in Economics from Northern Illinois University in 2010, has been appointed the lead for social sector development. Dr. Zafar, also an assistant professor like Dr. Javaid, has even fewer publications to his credit.
Malik Ahmed Khan, reportedly an MBA from Said School of Business at Oxford University, is another young inductee, who has been put in charge of infrastructure development and regional connectivity. He also lacks experience needed for the role. His LinkedIn page lists only one recent relevant experience, where he worked for the City of Toronto before he earned an MBA from Oxford. Other experience listed is that of being self-employed, student intern, or brief stints not lasting a year. Given the career trajectory of graduates from the Said School of Business, Mr. Khan’s post-MBA career does not demonstrate the same elevated global success.
In an earlier blog, I had argued for fresh blood to be inducted to the Planning Commission. However, I advocated for young bright minds that possessed relevant experience.
In fairness, not every new inductee is young. Dr Syed Tahir Hijazi, for instance, has been appointed to monitor governance. He is the Vice Chancellor of the University of Punjab with several publications to his credit. However, his CV boasts of producing “over 50 journal papers in one year”, which amounts to a paper published per week. This is scary, to say the least because not even Nobel Laureates in economics, such as Joseph Stiglitz, demonstrated such proficiency with intellectual productivity.
It is important that the credentials of civil servants holding the highest office stand up to scrutiny.
At the end of the day, these individuals are entrusted with the task of setting priorities for the nation. This is, though, true more in theory than in practice.
Several, if not most, decisions of significance have been made by the Prime Minister without one knowing what kind of planning went into those decisions.
The Planning Commission is intended to prevent such ad hoc decision-making by offering cogent advice, which the Executive has the prerogative to ignore.
Still, the need for fearless and able civil servants, who would not shy from writing the dissenting note, is being felt more so today than ever before.
If the new inductees serve with honour and integrity, the nation will remember their service with gratitude. Otherwise, they will join the long list of civil servants who would have nothing more on their CVs than how much debt they piled on the already indebted nation.