From red tape to red carpet

What needs to be done to make bureaucrats performance-oriented professionals

Rajendra Pratap Gupta | October 6, 2016


#Independence Day   #Red Tape   #Bureaucracy   #Narendra Modi  

(Illustration: Ashish Asthana)

On Independence Day, we heard the PM saying that 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.” It is time to relook at overhauling the bureaucracy, if Modi’s idea of India is to be realised. We need speed, efficiency and effectiveness in our entire chain of command.

We have had a mixed bag of experience of the bureaucracy in implementing some of the PM’s key announcements and the commitment on budget announcements and schemes.

The reasons for our bureaucracy’s failures are:

1.     Unlike the politician, who has 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 for their performance reviews and also that these ACRs (annual confidential reports) for performance reviews can be ‘managed’.

2.    Also, 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. Actually, now there is no merit in looking at these ACRs. Even the most corrupt and inefficient 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 egos, 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’. That is why files take months to travel from one desk to another. Nitin Gadkari, one of the best performing ministers, famously said on May 9 that he had to wait for nine months for approval for an automated parking. This is when Gadkari is known for being fast in getting things done within the bureaucracy, and we can imagine what other ministers must be facing!

So, the time has come to think out of the box and overhaul this system. Else, in 2019, the government’s biggest failure will be because of the inefficient and unaccountable bureaucracy who will fail to implement the government’s key schemes.
We need to focus on the team approach, ‘One India, one team, one goal’, that touches and transforms life till the last man standing in the line.

Redefining the Appraisal System: The current appraisal system looks at the ACR, which is the only thing that counts for a bureaucrat’s performance. If the performance and payment of the bureaucrat were based not just on his individual performance (50% weightage), but also 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;

Move from ACR to CPR (comprehensive performance review), which includes

1)    The individual performance review (IPR), based on the yearly goals/deliverables assigned

A) The secretary’s goals 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) The department’s performance review (DPR), based on the goals set for the year for the department/ministry

3) The government performance review (GPR), based on

a) facts/data-based self-assessment by the ministry/department (60% weightage)
b) Annual online survey taken by citizens, for all the departments/ministries at the central level (40% weightage)

Weightage for each level of review for the comprehensive performance review (CPR) should be as follows: IPR (50%), DPR (25%) and GPR (25%).

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

Implementation: Can be in a phased manner;

Option 1: We can start the IPR and DPR from 2017 at the joint secretary level, and the CPR (which includes the overall government review) can start from 2018

Option 2: CPR can start at the secretary level from 2017, then move to the joint secretary level from 2018, and from 2019, the same can be applied to employees holding the director rank in the central government

Option 3: Have CPR only for secretaries and IPR and DPR for the rest of the staff (till the level of director/undersecretary ) implemented from 2017

Individual performance review

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. Utilisation of funds (15% weightage)
5. Disposal of files and grievances (15% weightage)
6. Innovations (15% weightage)
For any of the misses, the weightage be objectively apportioned.

Department’s performance review

1. Every department must define/plan its key yearly deliverables/priorities. This must be done by the team – the minister 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. Utilisation of funds (20% weightage)
5. Disposal of grievances (15% weightage)
For any of the misses, the weightage be objectively apportioned.

Government performance review

Certain metrics for the GPR must be based on actual data/facts, and done by an independent government agency (60% weightage);

1. Implementation of key schemes goals vs. achievements (10% weightage)
2. Meeting the inflation target (10% weightage)
3. Fiscal deficit  (10% weightage)
4. GDP growth (10% weightage)
5. Utilisation of funds (10% 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. The above parameters can be objectively judged with data/facts, and others can be subjectively judged by the citizens under Jan Bhagidari Assessment (JBA) through online voting.

At the end, it is the government ‘for the people’; so the people must rate the government on overall performance through public voting after the government presents its self-appraisals on the above parameters.

The voting should be open for 30 days and citizens can vote by a missed call from their registered mobile number on a toll-free number. (40% weightage should be assigned to public perception/judgment on performance and 60% on self-appraisal/independent assessment by the government.)

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. A 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, he does not feel accountable to anyone. The reality is that now they are more driven by authority and administration and less by duty and development.

The biggest bane of bureaucracy is their job security. 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. They have been used to seeing government after government for decades. For them, this is all routine office work but for the government, it is an implementation emergency. This is the only way to bridge the divide and bring about a cultural change for performance, accountability and rewards. Today, only politicians are accountable but not bureaucrats! And it is time to change and fix the accountability based on a transparent review process/system.

All officers of the rank of joint secretary and above must be put on a five-year contract, based on their performance review along with a performance-based financial incentive. 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 out of five years – they must be relieved. Let us not forget that the ‘best are first to be hired and last to be fired.’ So the best performers need not worry.

Even Nirmal Kumar Mukarji, the last serving ICS officer who retired as cabinet secretary in 1980, as chief guest at the IAS’s 50th Anniversary celebrations 1997, had called for an end to the all-India tenured services.

Also, PS to the union ministers should not be an IAS. PS to the minister is considered an important bureaucrat but he is a junior IAS. (PS to the minister is below the rank of joint secretary), and hence he plays safe dealing with his seniors, as one day he might have to work under them, and the loser in this case always is the minister. So, we need to consider that the PS to the minister should be in the special secretary rank.

Files are taking months to move from one table to another. The e-Office/e-File concept must be implemented. No file should take more than three weeks and more than three levels. If there is a delay of more than a week, a 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 hard. Will his administrative system be able to catch up? There is a big difference in how the minister and the common man are handled by the bureaucrats. So the first impression here should not be the last impression. Bureaucracy is slowly putting red tape to the red carpet!

Modi said recently, “We cannot march through the 21st century with the administrative systems of the 19th century.” We still have ‘collectors’, and this shows the bureaucracy is still in 19th century. A senior IAS wrote to me, “Modi is ahead of time”, and I said “Yes, Modi is definitely ahead of time but unfortunately, the bureaucracy is still in the 19th century.” When Modi was thinking of the planning commission, he made a profound statement, “Sometime it is better to build a new house than to repair the old one.” Maybe, the same approach is needed for the ‘institution’ called bureaucracy. Do we repair the old house and/or build another? The transition is critical and we have no time to lose. It needs to start soon and there should be a time-bound plan to implement it.

Gupta is a public policy expert.

(The column appears in the October 1-15, 2016 issue)

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