The PPP government has tacitly acknowledged the vastness of the crisis afflicting the country, as well as the inadequacy of the tools at its disposal, by its appointment of banker Shaukat Tarin as its economics czar, as a PM's Advisor with the rank and status of a federal minister. Tarin has been put in charge of both the Economic Committee of the Cabinet and the Economic Committee of the National Economic Council, at a time when the main problem facing the economy is the drawdown of the foreign exchange reserves built up over the last bout of military rule. Tarin's appointment represents a leap of faith for the PPP, which clearly still believes in the technocratic model for this portfolio. Tarin may be a jiala, but the more important fact about him is that he has been a lifelong Citibanker, and has headed Pakistani banks both in the government sector and in the private sector. That was the reason that he was tapped to head the newly-formed Council of Economic Advisers, and the reason he has been chosen for his present post. In Pakistan, it is still assumed that finance ministers should be hands-on experts. This is incorrect under the parliamentary system of government at least, though a case may be made out for such expertise under a presidential system. Under the parliamentary system, any minister (not just the finance minister) is not supposed to be an expert, but the ministry is supposed to be staffed by experts specialising in the field, and finance experts, though relatively rare even in the bureaucracy, can still be found. The parliamentary model is best exemplified by Winston Churchill, whose knowledge of arithmetic was so poor that even as a teenager he argued about the results of certain sums on the grounds of aesthetics, who accepted the office of the Chancellor of Exchequer (how the British title their finance minister) with the words "I still have my father's robes of office." Two points must be noted. First, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin had made the offer in the full expectation that it would be refused, but he underestimated Churchill's hunger for office, no matter what it was. Second, Churchill presided over Britain's exit from the Gold Standard and consequent plunge into Depression. Churchill probably could have averted neither, but it was enough to sink a flagging career. If there had been no Hitler and no World War II, Churchill would probably not have become prime minister or head of the Conservative Party, and not be remembered, or if at all, just as no one remembers the American Treasury secretary who presided over the same Depression, or have been remembered as the man who took the UK into the Depression. Understandably then, in a time of economic difficulty, no one likes the finance minister, or likes to become one. The present difficulty is most intense in the USA, which is facing a serious crisis in what has become the industry of banking. The crisis is big enough for the spillover to have been global, which is inevitable whenever the American economy is affected. But Pakistan, which is not over the power shortage yet, has been hit badly enough to need desperate measures for salvation. It should not really be reassuring that there is talk of a Pakistani default, but no accompanying talk of the global financial markets being destroyed by this, as there was the last time Pakistan was close to default, when it conducted the nuclear tests. The good thing is that the world's markets are adequately prepared for a Pakistani default, the bad thing is that there is correspondingly less incentive to save Pakistan from a default, failing the political reasons of the War On Terror. Compared to the rest of the world, the problems that Pakistan faces, power and food shortages, might best be resolved after the immediate crisis is tided over, but for Pakistanis, these twin crises, which are accompanied by POL price hikes (another international problem) and an inflationary spiral that refuses to go away, are very immediate, and need the government to do what can be done. Previously, the government, with a banker first as finance minister, then as prime minister, deregulated the banking and telecom sectors, and depended on their natural expansion to provide the job creation necessary for a growing population. In their eagerness, the economic managers forgot about the real engines of growth, agriculture and industry. Much that is wrong with Pakistan's economy is to be attributed to the previous government, and will probably not be solved for a decade or two, if then. Much else that is wrong is because the newly elected government continued with the policies of their predecessors, and changing them at once will only be a beginning. These are policies held, not by the previous military rulers, as by the Finance Ministry bureaucrats who are trying to hide their incompetence in this fashion. In fact, these bureaucrats are the reason why the myth of the technocratic minister has emerged. The minister, like his Cabinet colleagues, is supposed to be politically able, able to see whether the party can sell the policies proposed by the ministry's team to the general public or not, and also able to convince the Cabinet to adopt bureaucrat-drafted policies, and to handle the parliamentary business of the ministry. That is not necessarily a bad thing when the bureaucrats have the required expertise, but when, as with our finance mandarins, they do not possess any expertise except whatever has been gathered on their last posting to the ministry, an expert is needed at the helm. The PPP previously had a constant in VA Jafery, a former finance bureaucrat who had served in various posts, culminating in the governorship of the State Bank of Pakistan. Jafery, in both Benazir governments, was the PM's adviser on Finance, with a Minister of State there to read out the Budget Speech and pilot the Jafery-prepared Budget through Parliament. Naveed Qamar, the Privatisation Minister, replaced him just days before the second Benazir government was dismissed, and that too on the insistence of the international lenders. He is back after the PML-N's Ishaq Dar left the Cabinet, but he has been given a replacement, from outside Parliament this time, ahead of other ministers, because his additional ministry needed full-time attention. And if one has to go outside Parliament, one might as well get an expert, and they have. E-mail: maniazi@nation.com.pk