Complicated governance for ordinary citizens: the way out

Some basic flaws in the system daunt honesty and encourage violation of rules through discretion, corruption and exemption


Dr. Rakesh Kumar Sharma | June 24, 2014

Growing discontent in Indian democracy over the last few years is a cause of concern. The country has more than 65 percent of its population below the age of 35 and will become the world’s youngest country with 64 percent of its population in the working age group by 2020. This would put pressure on the government for providing employment opportunities and citizen-centric governance.

The concept of good governance requires ‘the faith of people in the governance system’. Right from routine inter-personal discussions and the content in all forms of media, the critique of the governance system is increasing. This realization has been facilitated by the increasing expectations of the neo-rich class, their exposure to the external environment and the emergence of the young generation of free India with minimal influence of colonial traditions.

Work environment in the private sector, declining employment opportunities in the public sector and contractual engagements are making people vocal about their rights. 

The fault and the solution
Thinking out of the box is the biggest challenge, especially when people in the legislative and executive machinery complicate the simple issues in official jargon as visible in the voluminous legislations and rules. The existing set-up also makes things complicated as the political intent doesn’t move beyond the stereotype solutions. Enabling environment and facilitation occupies a back seat in a governance system dominated by punitive mentality.

The structure of the system has some basic flaws that discourage honesty and encourage violation of rules through discretion, corruption and exemption. Various positions in the government have attracted people for better job security, and to enjoy the prerogatives of ‘power’. Only proactive action in time can avoid worse situations that may emerge violently in the near future if not controlled. The issue of complexity in governance need to be analysed at the following three levels:

(I) Basic electoral reforms
The political system in our democracy has evolved out of the typical mindset of a developing nation. Security, exemptions and discretionary position precede all other objectives of the representative democracy. People are hypocrites if they don’t accept the reality behind the entry into politics at every level. The fight for different level of seats and higher berths across portfolios/departments prove it across various positions in the legislature and the executive. In the name of democratic decentralisation, we created too many institutions and vacancies to burden the public coffers. All elected as well as the nominated positions in the government are being reared with much of the cost, even if the quantum of corruption is taken aside. There is no effort to calculate the usefulness of such positions for economy and democracy.

Over-reliance of party politics on high command, money and muscle power has not been contained effectively by any legislation and institution. This discourages people with honest intentions to join politics. Democracy within the party is still a farce and there is a lot to learn from mature democracies which allow every citizen (including government officials) to join political parties and participate in transparent organisational elections and debates. Impartiality and political neutrality are now weak arguments for giving right to government officials to obtain party membership. This transparent mode is far better than the proxy involvement of government officials in politics.

Too many institutions have been created for public representatives at the union, state and local levels of governance. There is a lot of duplicity and non-coherence in the works of local representatives, block- and district-level representatives in zila parishad, MLAs and MPs. This also puts a lot of burden on the public exchequer to fund electoral system and the institutional set-up. In addition, a lot of institutions are created mainly to accommodate political leaders.

In addition to reduced representative machinery, minimum social security provisions and handsome salary, while holding the position in governance, need to be well-defined so as to avoid any corrupt means for income sustenance. Even people participating in politics from various positions in the government and the corporate sector must be provided job security while serving for the democratic set-up. This will not only remove fears about income sustenance but also restrain people from using power to harness the alternate means through corruption.

A party’s internal reforms may result in lowering the number of candidates fighting for each position. The leadership must emerge from party members and not from any other place. The uncertainty in politics leaves many ambitious people out of the job market, thereby crowding the leadership market and reducing the productivity of work force in all professions due to proxy involvement in politics. Parties rely heavily on an unorganised system of elections and expect each member to waste much time. This could be avoided by holding transparent internal elections in parties followed by simpler elections to the legislature. Use of IT can easily make this process cost- and time-efficient.

Frequent elections at random time intervals at various levels are not only wasting a lot of money and time but also enhancing the confusion in genuine mandates at different tiers of governance. The country has become a hub of elections and elected/nominated bodies with conflicting roles and unnecessary resource consumption. In the name of democracy we are creating cumbersome institutions and positions. This promotes cronyism and delays decision making in governance.

(2) Regulations and individual enterprise
Antagonist to the Keynesian approach of state regulation, Friedrich A von Hayek, had remarked that the more a state plans the more difficult planning becomes for the individual. Increasing reliance on fiscal policy empowered states to more discretionary and regulatory powers. While it interfered severely with individual enterprises, the less developed countries also used regulation as an important means to spread corruption in the system. Uncertainty and lack of social security provisions encouraged people to deviate from normal functioning and flouting the rule of law. The absence of political and administrative will to have a transparent, accountable and efficient governance system emerge as the immediate fallout from this situation.

(3) Citizen service delivery
Despite some overhyped intervention in terms of good governance initiatives, the procedures have been intentionally complicated by the government machinery to avoid transparency, accountability and the power transfer to citizen. Administrative machinery is the biggest hurdle in this due to possible fears of becoming insignificant. It is stronger when the political will to have citizen-friendly governance is weak. Take for example the citizen charters, which simply ask for declaration of services and the procedures in each public establishment so that there is no ambiguity to harass people for discretionary objections. The citizens have always been left at the receiving end and have been running from pillar to post for certificates, NOCs, schemes and formalities that are ever increasing in the guise of state regulation and affirmative action. At the cutting-edge level, people were frightened of the institution of village revenue official for centuries but the new institutions such as panchayat secretariat are fast matching the same level. The different departments of the government have little coordination and convergence plan and therefore issue verdicts and deadlines to citizens for every service. Citizens are still struggling with the identity crisis dictated to obtain numerous identity cards. The complications worsen in case of late registration of births, marriages, deaths and the rectification of names.

The way forward
If structural weaknesses are not dealt  with effectively, the growing unrest may lead the nation to chaos and anarchy. It is only after the structural reforms and equal and effective establishment of the rule of law that individuals may imbibe a civilised behaviour. Even in developed nations, the stick has done miracles in the initial phases. Violations cannot be tackled with another set of rules and police force if not supplemented with transparent modes such as random surveillance through IT-enabled environment and mechanisms that ensure strict punishment.
The biggest problem with the nation is too much reliance rhetoric without having any grit to move forward with a simple roadmap for systematic structural reforms. It is high time people holding significant positions realised this danger and initiated plans for some reforms. Political leadership cannot afford to ignore the civic unrest and need to address the issues immediately. It will definitely lower public discontent as the issues affecting an individual are much more important than macro-level issues. Corruption at higher places will however be dealt more effectively when citizens are out of their personal harassment chain.

Sharma is associate professor (economic administration) with the Himachal Pradesh Institute of Public Administration, Shimla. The views expressed here are those of the author.




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