Why this should not be an ISOlated case

Maharashtra finance minister’s office is the country’s first in getting ISO certification, improving file movement and bringing in transparency

geetanjali

Geetanjali Minhas | September 9, 2017 | Mumbai


#Sudhir Mungantiwar   #Maharashtra finance minister   #ISO certification   #Maharashtra  
Job charts displayed outside officials’ cabins ensure that visitors don’t waste their time or are not misguided. (Photo: Karan Jethwa)
Job charts displayed outside officials’ cabins ensure that visitors don’t waste their time or are not misguided. (Photo: Karan Jethwa)

Sitting in his office on the fifth floor of the Mantralaya building in Mumbai, Sudhir Mungantiwar is all smiles. The minister of finance and planning, Maharashtra, has achieved something which other ministers don’t even aim for. His office is the first administrative unit in the country to have an ISO certification – 9001:2015. 
 
The certificate, which is effective from May 8, 2017 to May 7, 2020, has been awarded to the department after assessing it on parameters of time taken in making and implementing policy decisions and monitoring and administrative control of such decisions. 
 
Mungantiwar also holds the forest portfolio. The certification also takes into account the time taken to dispose of a citizen’s grievance. The minister’s office ensures that no file lies pending at the desk of any official for more than a week. Care is taken that every correspondence or letter is properly marked for its ‘inward’ and ‘outward’ number and is tracked at every stage till the final decision is taken on it.
 
Read: Sudhir Mungantiwar's interview here
 
The certification parameters also include Mungantiwar handling the additional charge as guardian minister for Chandrapur and Wardha districts and as acting chairman and member of various cabinet and sub-committees.
 
The journey
It all started in July 2016 when Mungantiwar roped in consultants from Nashik to bring core processes like his daily and outstation tours, files, meetings, visitors (VIP and general) and letters (hand delivery and post) under the standard operating procedures (SOPs). A control mechanism was created and routine matters of all departments were put on record. Trainers were also called from Pune and Mumbai to train the staff and officers of the department and initiate them into SOPs. Everyone, from the peon to Mungantiwar’s personal secretary, underwent training for six months.
 
Mungantiwar’s meetings and tour itineraries, which were formally not recorded, were brought under SOPs. “When a request to hold a meeting comes up from another department, office, organisation or an individual, the minister takes a call. If he decides to hold the meeting then a list is prepared of all those who will attend the meeting along with the agenda. A note is prepared on the issues to be discussed, its outcomes and available options, finalising the draft proceedings, recording minutes of meeting and sending it to those concerned with the minister’s approval,” says Mahesh Shewale, OSD, administration, department of finance and planning, forests.
 
A similar exercise is carried out with other office work. A chart outlining functions of every officer is pasted outside their respective cabins. This helps a visitor in approaching the right person in case he/she wants an appointment with the minister, if the minister’s letter of recommendation is required, if they want to know about the status of their letter or require information on transfer or on supplementary funds of the budget. Job charts avoid unnecessary disturbance for the officers and waste of time for the visitor and provides convenience to both.
 
“We are now working on standardised lines and this makes government officers accountable. So far, government employees have been used to working on their whims and fancies. The person sitting on chair will now perform as per the standard procedure. For example, if someone comes for some approval or requires a certain number of certificates, the official will have to follow the checklist as per standard procedure and give their signature. If SOPs are followed there will be no controversy and workflow will be smooth,” explains Shewale.
 
Mungantiwar was already holding regular discussions with senior forest officials to exchange ideas and receive their feedback. For achieving the prestigious certification, he gave his field officers 99 action points or a priority list to follow. He later added another 33 points to it. Among other things, these action points include steps to ensure wildlife conservation and protection, increasing forest cover in the state, controlling encroachment on forest lands, setting up of a helpline for forest-related issues and organising quarterly conference of forest officers to draft policies on important forest issues.
“The nature of work carried out in a tehsil or at a collector’s office is specific. This is not the case in a minister’s office where any person can come. If it is department-related work, then we guide them to the concerned person. If it is a request letter we take the remarks from the concerned officer. Officers have to finish the given work otherwise give reasons. Even when the work is not within the purview of the department we guide the person accordingly. That is the instruction of the minister to us,” says Shewale.
 
Training in IT was also given to the officers to equip them better with the technology, IT-related services, their usage and repercussions. “While we all use IT, no one knows its legal implications, like what are the effects and aftereffects of sending/forwarding wrong WhatsApp messages. Very soon officials from the cyber cell will come to train us,” says Shewale.
 
Moreover, training is an ongoing and continuous process at Mungantiwar’s office. Officials are receiving training even on the recent policy decisions like GST. Mungantiwar, a GST council member, held a meeting with officers and people’s representatives at the division level to acclimatise them on the policy and address their concerns for its smooth implementation. “He takes up the concerns of traders, agriculturists, textile owners, film producers and others who want a lower slab with the GST council. If not workable, he conveys the same with reasons to their representatives,” says Amol Kanse, OSD, budget and finance, department of finance and planning, forests.  
 
Officers and other staff at the department have been trained enough to help and guide visitors. “Every visitor expects to get some information on GST. I am not from the sales tax department and may not know technical details, but I must have general information to respond. Even on the recent issue of the farm loan waiver, which is in the domain of cooperative department, people were coming to the finance minister with queries [raising finance for the farm loan waiver is done by the finance department]. So we requested experts from joint and additional GST commissioners’ office and the cooperative department to train us. For detailed enquiries we direct them to the concerned offices. As issues come up and evolve, we need to be updated,”  says Shewale.
 
As the state’s finance minister, Mungantiwar is particular that the budget commitments by different departments are adhered to. To ensure this he takes periodic review meetings with departmental officers, secretaries and with the chief minister at the cabinet level. “Earlier, at every step files for fund release would come to the finance minister’s office and get delayed. Now, to speed up, 80 percent funds are released in April itself. Thereafter, funds utilisation is the responsibility of the concerned department. The balance is released in December or January. These measures make Mungantiwar the first finance minister to take responsibility for budget commitments,” says Kanse.
 
Mungantiwar also ensures visitors coming to his office don’t go back disappointed. He interacts with them every Tuesday and ensures an audience even with those who come without an appointment. The minister has also taken forward the PM’s government resolution (GR) on wearing khadi, which has been adopted by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis too. Every Tuesday is a khadi day at his department.
 
Mungantiwar is the first minister in the state to seek feedback and suggestions from all departmental secretaries to ensure smooth delivery of services. He takes regular feedback on staff behaviour, time taken for file disposals, follow-ups, general coordination and planning of meetings. “This puts moral pressure on staff to perform and makes them accountable. He gives a 20-point rating for this purpose. We have prepared a mission statement for all of us to follow. The statement is a pledge to address maximum citizen grievances by improving communication,” says Shewale.
 
Moreover, it is mandatory for the staff to wear identity cards. On average it saves 10 minutes of time for visitors coming to the office as they know which officer to approach. This also weeds out corruption. “Often visitors who come to the department for the first time or those who come from far-off places do not know which officer to approach for their problem. Often they are misled and misguided at the hands of outsiders who look at making a quick buck. While employees of other departments also hold I-cards but they don’t wear them,” says Shewale. 
 
Some senior officers from other state departments are keen to adopt the finance department’s model. “Though many government offices, some schools, zilla parishads and panchayat samitis have received ISO certification, the finance department is the first ever minister’s office in country to receive ISO certification,” says Kanse. Impressed with efficiency in administration and policy implementation, CM Devendra Fadnavis has asked Mungantiwar to guide five desirous departmental offices get the prestigious ISO certification.
 
geetanjali@governancenow.com
 
[This article appears in the September 1-15, 2017 edition.]

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