Thursday, Dec 01, 2022

'Kill Bureaucracy To Keep The Country Alive'

'Kill Bureaucracy To Keep The Country Alive'

An exhaustive analysis on what is wrong with our bureaucracy and what needs to be done to fix it

On Independence day, we heard the Prime Minister say his Government’s motto is to reform, perform and transform. Also, on September 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”. 

A former Prime Minister had once said about the Indian Civil Service (ICS), the earlier avatar of IAS; “as neither Indian, nor civil, nor a service.”

I think it is time to take a relook at overhauling the bureaucracy.

We need speed, we need efficiency and we need effectiveness in our entire chain of command. We have had a mixed bag of experience with the bureaucracy in implementing some of the key announcements from the Prime Minister, and the commitment on budget announcements and schemes.

The reason our bureaucracy fails is because of the following:

  1. Unlike politicians, who have to go to the electorate every five years seeking ‘votes’ as his ‘appraisal’ for the performance, bureaucrats come with a ‘seniority-based promotion’ and a defined retirement age and hence, they are least bothered about their performance reviews and also that these ACRs (Annual Confidential Reports) for performance reviews can be ‘managed’.
  2. Since bureaucrats make the ACRs of these bureaucrats, the norm is ‘do no harm’, and they are generally rated between 8-10 in the ACRs and the chain continues year after year, badge after badge. Actually, now there is no merit in looking at these ACRs. Even the most corrupt and inefficient officers had the best of ACRs
  3. Most of the bureaucrats are there for ‘authority’ and ‘administration’, and not development. Their approach is to ‘control’ and ‘Govern’ and not – ‘work as a team’ for ‘development’.
  4. Also, if one gauges the real working of majority of these bureaucrats, they don’t work for anyone, but they work for themselves, and then, there are ego’s, differences, grudges and dislikes for other bureaucrats. So there is never a ‘team approach’ in whatever they do and this drags the performance of the Government.
  5. Bureaucrats are more ‘procedure driven’ than ‘Outcome driven’. They focus more on following procedures and not necessarily on the outcome or performance, and that is why files take months to travel from one desk to another.
    Famously, one of the best performing minister, Nitin Gadkari said on May 9 2016, that it took him a 9-month wait for an approval for an automated parking.

So, the time has come when we think out of the box and overhaul this system.

Redefining the 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 besides his individual performance (50% weightage) , the performance of his department / ministry (25%weightage) and the overall performance of the Government (25% weightage) , then the bureaucrats would work as a team and give up the siloed approach . So the first change is to move from ACR to CPR (Comprehensive Performance Review), which includes:

  1. Individual Performance Review (IPR). Based on the yearly goals/ deliverables assigned
    A) Secretary’s goal should be decided by the minister of the department
    B) Deliverables of the Joint Secretary and above decided by the Secretary of the department and the chain follows down.
  2. Department’s Performance Review (DPR). Overall departmental review be based on the goals set for the year for the department/Ministry.
  3. Government Performance Review (GPR). This is the overall performance rating of the government based on the
    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)

Weightage for each level of review for the Comprehensive Performance Review (CPR) :

  1. Individual Performance Review (IPR) should have 50 percent weightage
  2. Department’s Performance Review (DPR) should have 25 percent weightage
  3. Government Performance Review (GPR) should have 25 percent weightage

Increments, variable pay/incentives and promotions of officials should be based on CPR.

Parameters for IPR could be picked up from what is already defined under ACR, but it must be more specific like;

  1. For Defining / planning time bound quantifiable and measurable deliverables for the year (20 % weightage)
  2. Completion of targets within the time frame (20 % weightage)
  3. Completion of targets without increase in budgets (15 % weightage)
  4. Utilization of funds (15 % weightage)
  5. Disposal of files & grievances (15 % weightage)
  6. Innovations (15 % weightage)

For any of the misses, the weightage be objectively apportioned.

Department’s Performance Review (DPR)

  1. Every department must define/plan its key yearly deliverables / priorities. This must be done by the TEAM – Minister in-charge and officers up to the rank of Joint Secretary (20 % weightage)
  2. Completion of targets within the time frame (25 % weightage)
  3. Completion of targets without increase in budgets (20 % weightage)
  4. Utilization of funds (20 % weightage)
  5. Disposal of grievances (15 % weightage)

For any of the misses, the weightage be objectively apportioned.

Government Performance Review (GPR)

A part for the GPR be based on actual data / facts, and must be done by an independent government agency (40% weightage) and the rest must be based on public perception (60%) ; or it can be made (50%) of actual assessment by an independent agency and (50%) by public voting ;

  1. Implementation of key schemes goals Vs. achievements (10 % weightage)
  2. Meeting the Inflation target (5 % weightage)
  3. Fiscal deficit (5 % weightage)
  4. GDP Growth (5 % weightage)
  5. Utilization of funds (5 % weightage)
  6. Disposal of grievances (10 % weightage)

The government works for the citizens, and finally it is the citizens who are the best judge of its performance. Parameters 1-6 above can be objectively judged with data / facts, and others can be subjectively judged by the citizens under Jan Bhagidhari Assessment (JBA) through online voting.

Major change in bureaucracy is about making it a ‘performance based contractual service’: Also, one reaches the rank of Joint Secretary after a minimum service of 17 years. Joint Secretary is the actual ‘official’ who runs the show for the Government on a day-to-day basis, but if one sees the performance of the Joint Secretary, in a real sense, s/he does not feel accountable to anyone.

The biggest bane of bureaucracy is their job security and on one can demote them or remove them. 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 renew based on their performance?

Let us give them job security, but for performers. The Government is serious about a ‘Big Change’, and has to go and seek appraisal from the voters in 2019, but most of the bureaucrats are not as serious.

All officers of the rank of Joint Secretary and above must be put on a 5-year contract, based on their performance review, with a performance based financial incentive for their outstanding work. So, the salary structure should have a fixed pay and a variable component. 

If they fail to live up to the performance standards (IPR) below 80 % for three years (out of five-year term), they must be relieved.

Even, Nirmal Kumar Mukarji, the last serving Indian Civil Service (ICS) officer in India who retired as Cabinet Secretary in 1980, as chief guest at the Indian Administrative Service’s 50th Anniversary celebrations 1997, had called for an end to the all-India tenured services.

eOffice & eFile

Files are taking months to move from one table to another. e-Office / eFile concept must be implemented. No file should take more than three weeks and pass more than three levels. If there is a delay of more than a week, the note should be made on the file justifying the reasons for delay

Modi has the intent, the will and the vision and he is working really hard. Will his administrative system be able to catch up?

Rajendra Pratap Gupta is a leading public policy expert . Views are personal