Prime Minister Imran Khan has appointed his secretary Azam Khan as executive director of the World Bank for a term of four years by short-circuiting a process that requires interviews and tests of candidates.
The government on February 21 issued a notification for the appointment of Mohammad Azam Khan, Secretary to the Prime Minister, as executive director and alternate executive director of the World Bank for a term of four years, starting from November 1, 2022.
The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed to The Express Tribune that Azam Khan had been appointed in the World Bank with effect from November.
Responding to a question whether due process was followed before the appointment of Khan, the PM Office replied that “all previous World Bank executive director postings have followed the same process and this time again the same process has been followed as per past precedence”.
The PM Office said that the details of policy and procedures may be obtained from the Economic Affairs Division (EAD). However, the EAD that has bypassed all the laid-down procedures kept mum.
Azam Khan’s name has been selected out of a handpicked panel of four bureaucrats including Balochistan Chief Secretary Mathar Niaz Rana, Privatisation Secretary Nasir Jamey and Industries Division Secretary Jawad Rafique Malik.
However, the selection of the panel was just a formality as the decision to appoint Khan had been made one and a half year ago.
The decision to send Khan to Washington had been made in principle in October 2020 when the government cut the alternate executive director Naveed Kamran Baloch’s regular four-year tenure to only 22 months and kept the door open for this high-profile appointment.
Instead of granting him a full four-year term, Baloch got only 22 months. He had been playing an effective role in Washington and also helped secure emergency funding from the bank during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sources in the EAD said that there were some flaws in Azam Khan’s appointment process. Instead of offering the post to all ministries and departments as per protocol, the economic affairs ministry approved a panel of four, of which Azam Khan was picked.
Sources said that the summary to appoint Azam Khan in the World Bank was prepared in the office of economic affairs secretary and the concerned wing was not involved in the process.
Instead of sending the summary through the Establishment Division, the summary was directly sent to the PM Office without fulfilling the procedural requirements, said the sources.
The economic affairs ministry did not comment on questions about whether it followed the due process.
“EAD is concerned with this matter; you may contact them,” said a spokesman for the Establishment Division, when he was asked to comment on Khan’s appointment.
According to the Civil Servants (Service in International Organisations) Rules, 2016, “all Pakistan-specific foreign posts that are vacant and available or are likely to become vacant, shall be circulated amongst all eligible officers of the identified services, cadres and occupational groups, clearly specifying eligibility criteria in terms of educational qualifications, experience, age, grade and so forth”. But the EAD did not follow this path.
Sub-rule 4(c) says there shall be a pre-condition of passing a written qualifying test, but the test shall be organised by the concerned ministry through a well-reputed testing agency and institution hired through open competitive process. EAD violated this rule too.
The same rules have an exception clause that states that the process can be short-circuited in case of a sensitive foreign posting.
However, the post of World Bank executive director is not sensitive. The person represents seven countries at the World Bank board.
The executive director represents Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Tunisia, Morocco, Ghana and Algeria on the World Bank’s board.
The executive director is hired to defend development projects of the seven countries while providing input on their macroeconomic reports, giving opinions on global economic issues and defending quotas and voting rights of their constituency.
The post of World Bank executive director is considered prestigious and prized as people, who are considered close to the prime minister, have in the past lobbied to win it.
After The Express Tribune sent questions to the PM Office and the economic affairs ministry, the sources said, the concerned people rushed to complete the procedural formalities – almost one month after the PM had already approved Khan’s nomination for the World Bank.
In order to avoid conflict of interest and send the right people abroad, Fawad Hasan Khan, the former secretary to PM, had laid down a few conditions for appointments in the World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).
One of the conditions was that the bureaucrats who serve with the prime minister should not be eligible for such foreign postings to avoid the conflict of interest.
These conditions also included following a transparent and competitive process to make sure that only eligible people go abroad and serve the interest of the country.
Sources said that EAD had also proposed a policy to ensure that only people on merit could be appointed on these positions but its approval was blocked.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 18th, 2022.