Mind the Money

By Anjum Altaf

Leafing through the Sunday Careers section of Dawn I came across a quarter-page Position Vacant advertisement by the U.S. Pakistan Center for Advanced Studies in Energy (USPCAS-E) at the University of Engineering and Technology, Peshawar. I am wondering if readers will find the experience as surreal as I did.

The advertised position is for a driver on a contract basis with a high-school degree and a valid license. A long job description includes the following: application of knowledge of commercial driving and skills in maneuvering a vehicle at varying speeds in difficult situations, such as heavy traffic and inclement weather; the ability to sit and remain alert while driving for an aggregate period of up to 11 hours; and the ability to operate equipment in all types of weather and conditions which include going forward and backing up long distances, around corners, and in and around very tight areas.

An online application form is to be requested; only shortlisted candidates will be called for an interview; and no TA/DA will be admissible.

Is this the most efficient and cost-effective way of recruiting a driver? Do all public sector institutions follow this process? Or is this the outcome of the fact that, going by the name of the organization, this is a USAID funded initiative in which the donor’s procurement rules are to be followed without exception and there is more money floating around than anyone knows what to do with?

To me it seems that a call to a local employment bureau or agency would have yielded half a dozen candidates for selection at minimal cost instead of a quarter-page placement in a national English language newspaper, an online application process, in-house shortlisting of candidates, followed by interviews, etc.

Frankly, I found this mindless and immensely wasteful. The most ironic part of the absurd exercise for me was the fact that an organization ready to throw away money in this manner was not prepared to offer any TA/DA to the few shortlisted low-income applicants that it intended to invite from cities across the nation.

I tried to put this use of funds and rule-bound procedure, which makes eminent sense for large procurements or recruitment to senior positions, in the context of three other phenomena that have been on my mind.

First, how do we square it with the super-cavalier attitude being demonstrated towards procurement of billions of dollars worth of equipment and services related to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor? Almost every project seems to be sole-sourced to Chinese firms. How can these contradictory practices exist at the same time? And, if they do, should we be ultra-careful in the purchase of power plants or in the recruitment of drivers on a contract basis? We seem to be living in an Alice-in-Wonderland world in which anything goes and no questions can be asked.

Second, I keep thinking of things for which we really need money and to which little attention is being paid. As an economist, I keep worrying about the quality of education in the subject and fail to understand how many of the public sector universities in secondary cities have come to be accredited. One can visit the websites of many and find departments with one or two assistant professors with MA degrees responsible for programs offering BA, MA and MPhil degrees and announcing the launch of PhD programs in the near future. Quite a few of these websites have not been updated for years.

This is an act of immense cruelty being inflicted on the students enrolled in these programs which should either be funded appropriately or shut down. Till such time as enough qualified faculty is not available, it would make a lot more sense to pool resources into provincial centres of excellence where graduate training of an acceptable quality can be imparted. As it is, the discipline is in a stage of transition and even the best institutions in the country are having a hard time keeping up with the changes.

Third, there is the question of the very model of centres of excellence that was in vogue in the country years ago and has now resurfaced with new funding from USAID. Is there any evaluation of the centres funded in the previous cycle? Has there been any meaningful output commensurate with the amount of money spent? Could that money have been spent in a more useful manner?

Without such an evaluation, the infusion of dollars into new programs like USPCAS-E can only be expected to result in quarter-page advertisements for contract drivers capable of going forward and backing up long distances, around corners, and in and around very tight areas without really arriving anywhere.

This opinion appeared in Dawn on March 31, 2017 and is reproduced here with permission of the author.

Note: The ad appeared in the Dawn Careers supplement on 12.3.2017 on page 10. A copy can be seen at: http://pkjobvacancy.com/us-pakistan-center-advanced-studies-uet-peshawar-energy-driver-job-2017/

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One Response to “Mind the Money”

  1. A Ercelan Says:

    The last para is terrific! Caustic wit in the tradition of GBS

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