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Wednesday, 12 October 2016
The reasons our bureaucracy fails are:
Rajendra Pratap Gupta, October 12, 2016
If we don't reform the offic-ialdom, our biggest failure in future may be because of the largely inefficient and unaccountable bureaucracy.
On Independence Day, we heard Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying that his government’s motto is to ‘reform, perform and transform’. On Sept 1, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace wrote: “India’s economy has grown rapidly in recent years, but the country’s bureaucratic quality is widely perceived to be either stagnant or in decline.”
It is time, perhaps, to take a relook at overhauling the bureaucracy. We need speed, efficiency and effectiveness in our entire chain of command. This is the pre-requisite in realising the vision of any statesman. We have had a mixed bag of experiences with the bureaucracy in implementing some of the key announcements of this government including those of the Budget. I would like to make the following suggestions:
The reasons our bureaucracy fails are:
• Unlike the politicians who have to go to the electorate every five years seeking votes as their ‘appraisal’ for their performance, bureaucrats come with a ‘seniority-based promotion’ and a defined retirement age, and hence, they may not be much bothered over their performance reviews. In some cases, their Annual Confidential Reports (ACRs) are ‘managed’;
• Most of the bureaucrats’ approach is to ‘control’ and ‘govern’ and not ‘work as a team’ for ‘development’;
• Also, a majority of these bureaucrats work for themselves, and then, there are egos, differences, grudges and dislikes for other bureaucrats. So, there is hardly a ‘team approach’ in what they do and this drags the performance of the government;
• Bureaucrats are more ‘procedure-driven’ than ‘outcome-driven’. Union Minister Nitin Gadkari said on May 9, 2016 that it took him a nine-month wait for an approval for an automated parking. This is when Gadkari is known for getting things done from the bureaucracy unlike many of his colleagues. If this is his fate, one can imagine other ministers and common people.
So, the time has come that the government goes for reform of this system. If not, our biggest in failure in the coming years and decades may be because of the largely inefficient and unaccountable bureaucracy.
Appraisal system: As of now, we have an appraisal system that looks at ACRs, which only counts for an individual’s performance. If the performance and payment of the bureaucrat was based not just on his individual performance but also the performance of his department/ministry and the overall performance of the government, then the bureaucrats would work as a team. So, the first change is: move from ACR to CPR (Comprehensive Performance Review), which includes:
• Individual Performance Review (IPR): (50% weightage) based on the yearly goals/deliverables assigned;
• Department’s Performance Review (DPR): (25% weightage). Overall departmental review be based on the goals set for the year for the department/ministry;
• Government Performance Review (GPR): (25% weightage). This is the overall performance rating of the government based on:
a) Facts/data-based self assessment by the ministry/ department (10% weightage);
b) Annual online survey taken by the citizens, for all the departments/ ministries at the Central level (15% weightage).
Increments, variable pay/incentives and promotions of officials should be based on CPR. Implementation can be done in a phased manner starting with the secretaries, followed by joint secretaries and then on to the director level. Major change in bureaucracy from this is moving to a ‘performance-based contractual service’.
The biggest bane of bureaucracy is their job security. When politicians have to go every five years for their performance review and renewing their term before the electorate, why should the top officials not undergo a review and renewal based on their performance?
All officers of the rank of joint secretary and above must be put on a five-year contract based on their performance review, with a performance-based financial incentive. The salary structure should have a fixed pay and a variable component. If they fail to live up to the performance standards (IPR) of above 80% for three years (out of the five-year term), they must be relieved. Let us not forget that the ‘best are first to be hired and last to be fired.’
Nirmal Kumar Mukarji, the last serving Indian Civil Service (ICS) officer who retired as cabinet secretary in 1980, had called for an end to the all-India tenured services while speaking as chief guest at the Indian Administrative Service’s 50th anniversary celebrations in 1997.
Some thought about post of the private secretary (PS) to the minister at the Centre: the PS to the minister is considered an important bureaucrat but he is a junior IAS officer (below the rank of joint secretary), and hence they play safe dealing with their seniors, as one day they might have to work under these officers. The loser in this case always is the minister. So, we need to consider that the post of PS to the minister should be of the rank of special secretary, which is of a senior officer.
The prime minister recently said, perhaps rightly, that: “We cannot march through the 21st century with the administrative systems of the 19th century.” Ironically, we still have the post of the ‘collector’ in post-British India, and this itself shows that the bureaucracy is still in the 19th century!
When the prime minister made a proposal of converting the Planning Commission to Niti Aayog, many like me may have thought that it is better “to build a new house than to repair the old one”. May be the same approach is needed for the ‘institution’ called bureaucracy. The transition is critical and we have no time to lose, and there should be a time-bound plan to implement it.