Citizens as Consumers

Bureaucracy: Some Reforms

Dr.Rao VBJ Chelikani

In some developing countries like Algeria, Tunisia, Senegal, and Kenya, soon after independence, there were attempts to revamp the entire colonial style of administration by filling the posts by the party militants who had sacrificed and suffered most. But, the results have not been very happy. Organising resistance is a quite different activity from administering services for the citizens. The militants very quickly initiated themselves into the bureaucratic mould of enjoying power and authoritarianism, as well as to indulge in corruption. Except in the Republic of South Africa, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Egypt, Argentina and Brazil, where the colonial regimes had set up solid administrative mechanisms, in rest of the small African and Arab countries, there were no elaborate systems of administration and no personnel, at all. Later on, the UNDP and the UNV had provided experts and volunteers to set up the rudiments of administrative mechanisms for the basic functioning. But, this has led to the patronage of a plethora of local employees and militants under the pay of the government and all the foreign funds received were spent on them. 

In India, there have been prominent commissions for administrative reforms, both at the Centre and in the states, which made only cosmetic changes. Ironically, in many states, there is a permanent department for administrative reforms, whose output and its impact on the administration has never been significant. The Rajamannar Committee, constituted by the Tamil Nadu government had, long time ago, recommended the total abolition of the all-India services, comprising of some 61 technical and specialised services. The West Bengal government too had published a memorandum recommending their abolition. Anandpur Sahib Resolution by the Akali Dal in Panjab also recommended restricting the powers of the Union government, mainly, to defence, foreign affairs, etc. However, these recommendations are made in the context of Centre-state relations, rather than in the context of state-citizen relationships. On the other hand, Sarkaria and Punchhi commissions have suggested adding more of the same, in the name of reforms.

The term servant, whether it is civil servant or public servant is repugnant to a democratic society. It is comic to see the servants acting like masters.

  1. Reforms

i). The term servant, whether it is civil servant or public servant is repugnant to a democratic society. It is comic to see the servants acting like masters.

ii). The present service rules, regulations and manuals and the model application forms used by the officials and filled by the public are totally obsolete and there is an urgent need to re-write them in simple modern English and in vernacular languages, using English vocabulary. Some of the forms, still, routinely ask for religion and caste. We can hope that with complete digitalisation, more simplified online services would be possible.

iii). To undertake a fresh study of the hierarchy in All-India and Group services so as to bring more social equality and reduce official protocols among them. In other words, the disparity between the IAS and other central service cadres has to be abolished. From the gate-keeper to the collector or the secretary of the department, they should be treated with equal respect. In order to promote team work and national integration, there should be more frequent circulation of all-India service staff with periodic change of the state.

iv). There is a Union Public Service Commission whose chairperson is bureaucratically nominated but for whose removal, the President of the Republic has to consult the Supreme Court. The Commission is to be a ‘hall of fame’ for the most eminent HRD experts available in the country as well as abroad.

v). The minimum government will happen only with minimum staff. There should be an independent mechanism to watch the over-growth of any department or public sector body and to propose regular ‘haircuts' or pruning. There are many departments, boards, corporations and project authorities that have outlived their purpose and are still on the pay-rolls with un-utilised assets. For example, we can do away with the Information and Broadcasting, Railways and Postal departments and have independent corporations instead. In the USA, President Trump's election campaign promised, as one of his priorities, to do away with excessive government regulations and to streamline federal practices.

vi). Similarly, instead of institutionalising many welfare schemes and projects and entrusting them to the decentralised bodies, they are being carried out, at least for five years, directly by the departments. They administer a series of ‘ad hoc’ compensations, indemnities and gratuities. Many schemes to be implemented by the states are being administered from New Delhi and many functions which can be carried out by the local bodies are implemented by the state departments for political expediency.

vii). Public Undertakings: Soon after the independence, the Administration, including the planners, have had the merit of envisaging state investment to set up many institutions in vital sectors, like the infrastructure-building, irrigation, transport, communications, etc., when there was none to do so in the society. But, now, the governments are not willing to get rid of the loss-making old public sector undertakings, as all the top lucrative jobs are reserved for the senior administrative officers.

viii). Skills and Knowledge versus Experience: We need professionals with the latest technical skills and latest scientific knowledge. Even if a civil servant is qualified technically at the time of his recruitment some thirty years ago, such people tend to be conservative, afraid of innovation and experimentation and keep young people at a distance. For all jobs, experience and seniority of the person alone are not sufficient criteria anymore. Skills are needed; they are to be re-skilled and up--skilled constantly and very fast.

ix). Lateral Entry: The time has come, now, to enlarge the opportunities to serve the society to all the competent people in the open market. The large-scale hiring of the best managerial talent in the country on short contracts as per the programmes and schemes to be implemented is necessary. Additionally, professional bodies like the Bar Councils, Medical Councils, Chartered accountants and auditors, engineers, architects, management institutes, universities, corporates and chambers of commerce and industry can nominate or depute their members to work and contribute their expertise on contract basis. While lateral hiring is a common practice in the USA, Britain, Belgium, Germany, Australia,  New Zealand, Canada, etc. in India it is done exceptionally. Already in the past many economists, scientists and technocrats from outside have occupied key positions. Indian nationals working in international or multi-national organisations should be eligible to apply.

Present piecemeal or ad hoc measures and insisting on long experience for the top jobs did not yield good results. Grafted elements are often rejected by the entrenched hierarchical system. Many eminent persons had bitter experience and went back to foreign positions where the work culture is friendly. 

x).We do have high-quality training institutions for the administrative staff of higher levels but not many for more abundant lower level staff. Subject experts from the universities who can speak with academic freedom are rarely involved and the trainee's interaction with the civil society activists does not form part of their programme of studies.

xi). Still, there are many instances of royal acts like giving jobs on compassionate grounds, i.e. if an employee dies, giving the same job or something else to his kith and kin, etc., which is aberrant and anachronistic. There should be proper social security system to cater to such situations.

xii). Evaluation:

a).Present annual appraisals do not seem to verify whether they can take timely and effective decisions in critical and complex decisions, and if they can take ownership of responsibilities with courage to stand up for what is right, instead of yielding without resistance to political decisions. This is invariably the case in the recruitment of managers in the private sector.

b).Weeding out the officers who are undesirable and who abuse or misuse power is a pre-requisite for good governance. This can be done by adopting new techniques,  by which one can quantify the extent of corruption and pilferage. For this purpose also, we have many eminent audit firms who can do it on contract basis. In 2015, on a single issue of violation of austerity measures proposed, the Communist Party of China's Central Commission for Discipline and Inspection has punished some 26,900 officers in 19,160 cases.

c).As the officers have constitutional protection, if an All India officer does not work satisfactorily in one state, he can only be transferred to another state. Suspending or punishing him is very difficult; dismissing him would require a presidential order. The Central Vigilance Commissioner, the Directorate of Enforcement and the Central Bureau of Investigation who receive complaints should be allowed to inquire and prosecute directly before the prescribed tribunals. On the contrary, now, according to a stipulation called ‘Single Directive', all officers of the rank of joint secretary and above can be inquired into only after receiving the authorisation from the officer above him. Though the Supreme Court disapproved of this fraternal solidarity and even though the CVC has been repeatedly reminding the Secretariat, nothing has changed. Further, in some cases, the files of the officers are removed from the purview of the inquiry, claiming that administrative disciplinary action would be taken by the department itself. Anyway, the process is so slow that many officers would, meanwhile, get promotions and eventually retire.

The Vigilance Officer appointed in each departmental mechanism has not been very effective since he comes from the same department. Similarly, there is a provision for a three-year imprisonment equally for the person who bribes an officer but it is never strictly implemented. We cannot expect only one of the two to be virtuous.

xiii).In many countries, officials are an elite class, governed by a distinct administrative law. More or less, we are on the same lines, in our country. Instead, they should be governed by the common law of the land, but expeditiously.

ivx).Judging by the delays in implementing the Act, we can understand that the executive is not very enthusiastic to install the Lok Pal to enquire into the conduct of both the political and administrative authorities. Similarly, after years of efforts from the civil society, the Whistleblowers Protection Act was passed by Parliament and received the assent of the President. But, whatever government is in power, it is not able to notify this law for implementation.

The tax-paying citizen should have all the rights of a consumer against the personnel functioning in the departments as well as in the public enterprises.

xv). The World Bank and the UNDP with their long experience of working with the bureaucracies in the developing countries, always, insist on Citizens Charters, which stipulate the time and quality for the delivery of the public services. Even though, these Charters were recommended in the 70s, by the National Development Council, they have not been effectively implemented and penalties are not imposed. They should be made justiciable i.e. one should be able to approach the courts.

xvi). The UN bodies insist upon social audit by the civil society organisations for any project funded by them. Both the political and administrative authorities should provide space for the civil society organisations.

xvii). The tax-paying citizen should have all the rights of a consumer against the personnel functioning in the departments as well as in the public enterprises.

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