Govt plans to induct experts into ministries, likely to ruffle feathers

Updated November 13, 2019

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A summary submitted to Prime Minister Imran Khan by the Establishment Division has identified 15 ministers for “Creation of 15 Posts of Technical Advisors”. — Instagram/File
A summary submitted to Prime Minister Imran Khan by the Establishment Division has identified 15 ministers for “Creation of 15 Posts of Technical Advisors”. — Instagram/File

ISLAMABAD: The government has decided to induct highly qualified professionals of relevant fields in top positions into federal ministries, on the pattern of under secretaries in the United States, to improve efficiency and output of the government.

They would be officially called ‘technical advisers’ and paid according to market conditions in the private sector for a fixed term. They would be placed above the federal secretaries and below the ministers in terms of policy advice and expert opinion.

They would be hired in Manag­e­ment Pay (MP) scale or Special Professional Pay Scales (SPPS), but practically would be grade-23 officers, since a federal secretary had grade-22, an official said.

“This will be a replica of the US administration where presidents bring in their own teams of technical experts of all fields to deliver on government visions and targets. And those experts remain in office mostly until the presidential term,” said a senior official.

PM’s aide says ‘technical advisers’ will at first be hired in 15 ministries

He said those running the government believed that the existing lot of the senior bureaucracy was one of the key stumbling blocks to smooth functioning of the government.

Resistance expected

However, the proposals are likely to face resistance from within the bureaucracy as some of the top officers privately contest the need for hiring what they call “young super bureaucrats” and suggest there is no room for such positions under the existing legal scheme of things and rules of business.

When contacted, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Institutional Reforms and Austerity, Dr Ishrat Hussain, explained that the government had prioritised 15 federal ministries where ‘technical advisers’ would be placed in the first phase. He confirmed that these advisers would be above the secretaries and below the rank of federal ministers.

A number of cases and proposals come before the government from various quarters including through the federal secretaries, but get stuck and pass through the process without the quality input based on best market practices because the secretary is not necessarily an expert in the field. At the same time, ministers are seldom experts of the relevant field as they come through the political process. Therefore, the technical adviser will process proposals floated by the secretary or the line ministry to guide the minister and ultimately help the cabinet reach informed decisions.

Dr Hussain said the pay scales of management positions (MP-1) were being improved to attract quality experts. An MP-I adviser would now be getting more than Rs700,000 per month.

He said the government had already hired a technical adviser — a highly qualified professional — in the ministry of education through a competitive process and would soon follow suit in other 15 selective ministries.

A summary submitted to the prime minister by the Establishment Division has identified 15 ministers for “Creation of 15 Posts of Technical Advisors”. These ministries and divisions are: Science and Technology, Finance, Power, Petroleum, Water Resources, Commerce, Aviation, National Food Security, Industries and Production, Information Technology and Telecommunication, Climate Change, Maritime Affairs, Textile Industry and National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination.

“As these ministries/divisions lack the requisite technical expertise, therefore, their optimal performance is hampered,” the summary noted and argued that “as an immediate measure to boost their performance, there is a need to hire the services of requisite technical expertise on market based salaries” i.e. one each for these ministries “with the specific job to look after and supervise the affairs of technical wings of these ministries and divisions”.

The process of recruitment against the proposed posts of the advisers with post-wise specific terms of reference will be processed by respective administrative ministers in the light of the criteria for hiring of technical advisors on contract basis in consultation with the ministry of finance and management service wing of the Establishment division.

The Establishment division has reported to the prime minister that the Finance Division has already prepared Special Professional Pay Scales (SPPS-I, II & III). Separately, the pay package of MP-I, II and III have also been upgraded. “Therefore, these technical experts can be hired from market” either on SPPS or MPS.

An official said the Finance Division had separately hired a group of qualified professionals for the Public Private Partnership Authority through a competitive selection process on SPPS with a monthly salary tag of Rs2.5 to Rs3 million.

He said a group of top officers were set to challenge the placement of technical adviser in the ministries and were, instead, proposing to create a pool of technical experts for independent expert opinion, instead of creating another tier in the hierarchy.

“This is a revolutionary idea but needs amendments to the rules of business. The technical adviser and secretary who also holds the position of principal accounting officer in each division would remain entangled in turf wars,” said a former federal secretary.

Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2019