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Private sector experts for govt jobs: What MEA started as experiment gains momentum

Around 12 such officials hired as subject experts are attached with the policy planning and research division of the external affairs ministry but they don’t have decision-making or administrative powers

india Updated: Jun 12, 2018 07:16 IST
Jayanth Jacob
Jayanth Jacob
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Lateral entry,ministry of external affairs,Shashi Tharoor
It was on the suggestion of the parliamentary panel, which is headed by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, that the ministry of external affairs allowed lateral entry — opening up government positions to talent from private sector, academics and public sector(Livemint File)

The government may have called for outside talent for top jobs on Sunday but the external affairs ministry gave it a shot two years ago though in a limited manner and for junior positions.

Around 12 such officials, hired as subject experts, are attached with the policy planning and research division of the ministry but they don’t have decision-making or administrative powers, which are extended to officials who come on deputation from other departments.

“It is a good beginning for the MEA (ministry of external affairs). Now that the government is planning to hire joint secretaries through lateral entry, so what the MEA started as an experiment is gathering momentum,” said Prof Richard Hey, a Lok Sabha member who is part of the parliamentary standing committee on external affairs.

It was on the suggestion of the parliamentary panel, which is headed by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, that the ministry allowed lateral entry — opening up government positions to talent from private sector, academics and public sector.

The panel has been calling for the expansion of the foreign service to meet staff shortage as India spreads its diplomatic outreach.

“We need change in bureaucracy. Even the British whose system we inherited (have) made it more attuned with the changing times,” said Hey.

But everyone is not in agreement.

“The question that first comes to my mind is this. How will the hiring be done for these positions of joint secretaries? We did have lateral entry even at secretary level and that was when it was clear that the domain knowledge of that particular person should be utilised. They were made on case-to-case basis,” former cabinet secretary KM Chandrashekhar said.

The ministry was not planning to take people from outside, including from academia or private sector, in decision-making roles as of now, officials said.

It could in some way defeat the larger objective of lateral entry. All but one of India’s ambassadors in all major world capitals are from the foreign service. A noted exception is the Indian envoy to Saudi Arabia. Ahmad Javed is from the Indian Police Service.

One of the reasons the parliamentary panel pushed for lateral entry was shortage of staff. Brazil has 1,200 people in foreign service, China 6,000 people, and the US 20,000.

“I am not saying we can be like the US or even like China. But 800 is far too modest a number and it needs to be increased,” Tharoor had said 2017, making a case for expanding the diplomatic staff.

The parliamentary committee had noted there were only 770 Indian foreign service personnel against a sanctioned strength of 912.

The committee was of the view that the size of India’s diplomatic corps “is inadequate considering the tasks and challenges before the ministry and nation”.

“You need some people now to make up for your efficiency. So, we can think about lateral entry and facilitating the entry of NRIs,” Tharoor, also a former minister of state for external affairs, had said.