PTI govt struggles to find suitable chief statistician


ISLAMABAD: The government has once again decided to run the affairs of Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) on an ad hoc basis due to difficulties in finding a suitable chief statistician – a post that is very critical for producing timely and quality economic data.

However, the government has almost narrowed down its search for the post of chief economist of the Planning Commission, which is also a very critical position in macroeconomic planning. The post of chief economist has been marginalised due to strong influence of the bureaucracy and complete control of the Q-Block over economic policymaking.

The federal cabinet will consider a summary today (Tuesday) of the Ministry of Planning and Development to give additional charge of the vacant post of chief statistician of the PBS, according to the cabinet agenda.

The additional charge of the post is currently with Planning Secretary Zafar Hasan, which the cabinet is requested to extend further.

The post of chief statistician of the PBS fell vacant in July 2017 when Asif Bajwa completed his term in office. The services of Bajwa were later on acquired as a consultant to the PBS for six months, which also expired in January 2018.

Since then, the affairs of the PBS are being run on an ad hoc basis. After the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government decided to abolish the Statistics Division and made the PBS part of the planning ministry, the planning secretary is looking after the day-to-day affairs of the national data collecting agency.

Both the Pakistan Muslim LeagueNawaz (PML-N) as well as the PTI governments scrapped the selection process multiple times due to difficulties in finding a suitable candidate.

PBS is responsible for holding population census and gathering official data related to important sectors of the economy including calculating the national accounts to give an estimate of the gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate, conducting Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey (PSLM) on the basis of which poverty is estimated, gathering price data to calculate the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and Sensitive Price Indicator (SPI), Labour Force Survey and many other surveys. In the absence of a permanent chief statistician, all routine and important files are sent for approval of the planning secretary, which often leads to delay in the publication of critical economic numbers.

However, in the past three months, the PBS has again started timely publishing the inflation and trade statistics.

Chief economist

Planning Minister Asad Umar on Monday held interviews for the post of chief economist, which has also remained vacant for a significant  time. The government had earlier scrapped the selection process twice after it did not find a suitable person.

Umar, along with other panel members, conducted interviews of four persons. Sources said Muhammad Usman Khan, an adjunct faculty member of LUMS and an adviser of DFID, has emerged as one of the strongest candidates this time.

SBP official Ali Chaudhry was the other main contender for the post of chief economist. “We have completed interviews for the post of chief economist and a suitable person will be appointed soon,” said Umar without disclosing the names.

Under the rules, 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. Like its predecessor, the PTI government has also decided to appoint a person from the private sector. The post of chief economist had been occupied in the past by the likes of Dr Mahbubul  Haq, Dr Moin Baqai and Dr Arshad Zaman, wrote Pervez Tahir, former chief economist (2000-2006) in an op-ed, recently published in The Express Tribune.

Tahir further wrote that on the ground, the chief economist profile had diminished from being the pivot to just another member in a crowd of 12 (Planning Commission members).

With nothing really to do except the Public Sector Development Programme, the Planning Commission is an expensive parking place for professional members running into each other or trying to figure out why they were there in the first place, wrote Tahir.

CPEC Authority CEO Meanwhile, the government has finally appointed Syed Zakria Ali as Chief Executive Officer of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Authority. Ali was serving as director general of the President Secretariat.





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