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Lee attacks civil servants over lack of economics PhDs

Former RTE economics journalist turned Fine Gael TD George Lee has berated the public service for what he called "fiscal illiteracy".

Astonishingly, out of 19,000 civil servants, only three officials with economics PhDs could be identified in the entire service.

Two of these are currently employed by the Department of Finance, while there is only one official in the Department of Education with a combined economics and sociology PhD.

However, outside of Finance and Education, not a single other government department was able to identify any employees who might possess an economics PhD.

Celebrity TD George Lee said it was extraordinary that "in a scenario where we're in the greatest economic crisis this country has seen for a hundred years, we find we do not have a civil service with the skills to deal with it.

"Small stockbroking houses, universities and the Central Banks employ more top-level economists than the entire apparatus of the State.''

This, Lee said, was leading to "such a lack of strategic thinking, even where civil servants commission reports into fiscal issues, they do not have the skills to fully understand the contents of these reports''.

He also slammed the "astonishing failure of management'' where numerous government departments simply did not know if they had any PhDs on the staff.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen was unable to state whether there were any economists in his department.

Similarly, the Tanaiste, Mary Coughlan, who is in charge of the development of a 'smart economy', and of the government response to the nation's unemployment crisis, was unable to find a single economics PhD amongst her department's 1,056 employees.

The Tanaiste did, however, state that five of her staff have secured a post-graduate qualification in an economic discipline, whilst 15 other staff are participants in a diploma and Msc programme in economic policy analysis.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan also claimed that outside of the current two PhD graduates, 44 of his department's 606 staff have a master's degree in economics.

This, however, still means that less than 10 per cent of the staff of the department that has prime responsibility for dealing with our banking and economic crisis has a post- graduate qualification in economics.

The minister was also anxious to note that five of the last seven Assistant Secretary Generals in his department had a master's degree in Finance.

However, top economics lecturer Karl Whelan said that no "government should be relying on master's graduates to solve complex problems in banking''.

"It is the four years of hard questioning that it takes to become a PhD that makes you a proper professional'', and added that "whilst having a department of economists won't spare you from mistakes, an absence of top-level economists in governance is simply asking for disaster''.

Mr Lee slammed the "dreadful failure of management displayed by the numerous departments who did not know if they had any economics PhDs in their offices.''

"Every department outside of Finance has a role to play in the performance of the economy in the manner that they spend their allocations,'' said Mr Lee.

He said that matters such as the failure of Noel Dempsey to replace a top economist who had been employed in the Department of Transport was inexplicable within "the context of the need to get best value from huge infrastructural projects such as Transport 21.''

Sunday Independent