Commerce ministry issues norms for engaging consultants | Business Standard Column

Clipped from: https://www.business-standard.com/article/opinion/commerce-ministry-issues-norms-for-engaging-consultants-122073100983_1.html

The terms of reference for engagements shall include the functions to be performed and the outputs to be delivered

TNC Rajagopalan

The Ministry of Commerce has issued guidelines for engagement of senior consultants, consultants, associates, and young professionals as independent consultants with a view to strengthen itself with high quality resources. The engagement will be on contractual basis for two years and can be extended to three years depending on performance evaluation. Either party can terminate the contract with a notice of 30 days.

The terms of reference for engagements shall include the functions to be performed and the outputs to be delivered. These shall be specific, measurable, attainable, results-based and time-bound, as drawn up by various divisions in the ministry. Serious failure to perform the task assigned or failure to observe prescribed standards of conduct can result in termination of the contact by the government.

The persons engaged will have to go through training programmes that will be designed in five modules, in association with an academic institute. Besides an induction module, they will have to go through training on role specific modules such as modules on World Trade Organization, Free Trade Agreements, Foreign Trade Policy, Export Promotion, and so on.

At this stage, it is not clear how many independent consultants will be hired. The guidelines only say it will depend on the actual requirement at any point of time and provision of budget. The guidelines put up at the ministry’s website prescribe the minimum educational qualification required in the disciplines of economics, law, public policy, general management, and data science. The upper age limit, required post-qualification experience and relevant experience, remuneration, annual increments, travelling allow­ance, working hours, leave, etc. are also spelt out clearly.

At the entry level, the scheme for engagement of young professionals on a contractual basis for a limited period is similar to the Agnipath scheme of the Ministry of Defence with suitable variations considering the civilian nature of the tasks to be performed. The entry level salary of Rs 60,000 per month can attract many bright youngsters who may prefer to gain valuable experience and then go into the job market in the private sector for better prospects.

The scheme, however, is much broader and aims to bring in talent from outside at various levels so that fresh ideas emerge. For senior consultants, the upper age limit is 65. So, many seasoned professionals from the private sector or academics may also decide to join the government and give valuable inputs at the policy making level. At the mid-level of associates and consultants, fewer may be interested unless they want to get more familiar with how the government works or their employers decide to let them work with the government for two years and come back.

At present, the ministry has issued only the guidelines for engagement of independent consultants at various levels. No applications have been called for. There is no indication of when the government will start the process of engaging the independent consultants. Apparently, the selection process is yet to be finalised.

Overall, the idea of getting outside talent to serve the government on contractual basis for a limited period is interesting. It can work well if the bureaucracy can train and use the independent consultants well. If the bureaucracy uses them for sundry jobs and ignores their suggestions, the scheme may not deliver the intended results.Email: tncrajagopalan@gmail.com

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