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It is reported that Prime Minister Imran Khan has surrendered his discretionary powers, in favour of a uniform institutional mechanism to appoint Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of around 65 State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs). The key organisations under immediate focus include PIA, Wapda, PSO, OGDC, SSGC, SNGPL, SECP, NBP, BoI, Privatisation Commission, power and generation companies, regulatory authorities, PTV, PTA, CAA and Nadra.
For the appointment of CEOs in all the 65 public sector entities, the government plans to set in motion the process of public advertisements, shortlisting of eligible candidates and interview by a selection committee. The selection committee will comprise concerned minister, secretary of the division, one to three experts or specialists of the area concerned and non-executive chairman of the board of directors to ensure uniformity and transparency in the merit-based selection process for the relevant ministry will furnish the job description, the eligibility criteria and the skills required for the job whereas the selection committee will decide the evaluation parameters for the job.
Wider participation will be invited by the ministry through public advertisement in leading newspapers and posting on the relevant websites of the government.
The division will then submit the list of eligible candidates to the selection committee for initial review. After the shortlisting is done, the division will arrange interviews. The selection committee will forward a list of three to five candidates to the appointing authority - the prime minister. The appointing authority can select any one of the candidates recommended by the committee. However, if not satisfied with the list, he shall ask for a fresh panel.
The CEO thus selected will be appointed on contract for a fixed tenure as prescribed in the law.
All of this sounds great and promising. But this basic yet essential task should have been initiated and completed by the government in its first 100 days in office. The first thing the new government is expected to do is to set its team in order so that the delivery of its mandate and policies are set in motion at the earliest.
As to date, apart from few new appointments of SOEs, it is a continuation of the past with many institutions still manned by officiating CEOs.
If one recalls, exactly the same process was put in motion by the government of PML-N in its first few months of taking over the seat of power following the 2018 general elections. The Human Resource wing of M/s Ferguson was awarded the task to manage the whole process from A to Z and submit the final list of selected candidates to the Prime Minister. An independent panel for the selection was established under the Chairman ship of Shams Kassim Lakha, a prominent personality with remarkable credentials.
The process was well conducted by the consultant which took around 8 months with final recommendations made to the government. By this time the enthusiasm of the government evaporated and cronyism and vested interest prevailed at the expense of merit which was reflected in the years of poor state governance, the legacy of which still prevails.
Be that as it may, the present leadership is, however, expected to deliver better as they won the people's votes on the promise of change for the better. And only and only the delivery on ground can sustain them in the present tenure and there after which is only possible through merit-based competent governance.
In addition to the appointments of merit-based CEOs, the government should reconstitute the governing boards of SOEs with merit-based appointments as these boards play a significant role in the appointments of CEOs and the conduct of the companies.
(The writer is former President of Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry)

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019