Accountability will help us develop faster

Performance management secretary Prajapati Trivedi talks to Samir Sachdeva


Samir Sachdeva | December 2, 2010

Prajapati Trivedi, secretary, performance management department of the cabinet secretariat, is a man on a mission to improve the performance of government departments and ensure their accountability. Though one of the few non-IAS secretaries, he is not new to government – he was economic advisor when Manmohan Singh was finance minister. Trivedi, an alumnus of St. Stephen’s College, London School of Economics and Boston University and professor at IIM Calcutta amd Harvard University, previously advised the governments of 26 nations when he was a senior economist with the World Bank. In an interview with Samir Sachdeva, Trivedi spoke about his mission. Edited excerpts:

How has the Performance Monitoring and Evaluation System (PMES) progressed since the prime minister approved it last  September?
Four things are key to measuring its progress. First is that two rounds of the request framework documents (RFDs) have been prepared, one set for a three-month period in 2009-10 and the other for 2010-11. The 2009-10 RFDs have been published in the form of a book and the compilation of RFDs for 2010-11 is about to be published.

Secondly, the results against the commitment made in these documents have been approved by the prime minister, conveyed to the secretaries individually and the cabinet secretary has written to each secretary about the result of their performance evaluation and performance score of the department concerned as compared to the average score of all the 59 departments/ ministries whose performance was evaluated for the year 2009-10. The departments falling below the government average have been directed to improve their performance in the current year.

The other progress relates to thecultural change taking place,  a culture which is less process-oriented and more result-oriented. I believe the process for same has started, but a change of this magnitude can not take place overnight. It’s now not about mechanical documents to be produced but about people believing in it.  We have conducted 24 workshops in the past 18 months including an international workshop. We have trained about 900  senior officers in the government, which itself is a significant achievement. These officers have acted as change agents and have in some cases, helped us in convincing the secretaries of their departments to adopt the RFD system.

The last point is the trickling down of accountability. International experience has shown that accountability for results always trickles down and it can never trickle up. If we hold the secretary accountable, he will ensure that everyone below is accountable.

Are we a step closer to implementing performance-linked incentives for the government employees?
Yes, we are now very close to having a performance-linked ince-ntive scheme. The idea of performance-linked schemes is not new or revolutionary. The fourth, fifth and sixth pay commissions said the government should have performance-linked incentive schemes. But earlier the government did not know how to define government performance. With the PMES and RFDs, that definition has become possible.

What is the role of your department?
Our role is clearly to provide technical support to various departments. We have created the methodology based on international best practices which all departments are following for performance management. Our role is to coordinate, integrate as well as support the process.

What are the components of the RFD, which is the heart of this process?
It is a very simple document and addresses three basic questions for a department – the key objectives of the department; the actions department proposes to achieve these objectives; and how does one know that the department is taking those actions.

What are the success indicators?
For each action the department promises, we simply ask how do we measure progress being made or how we measure the degree to which the department is succeeding in implementing it ? The answer to this question can be called the success. Each department is to define these parameters itself. The departments have to first have the vision, mission, objectives and then actions. Each objective is to have a weight which defines the relative priority among objectives. Thereafter, for each objective, an action needs to be defined. For each action one needs a success indicator and a target. The government in the past had a single point target, say, a target to build 7,000 km of roads . However if it built 6,300 km there was no indicator to say whether this achievement was a good or bad performance.

Have you identified top departments for the first three months?
We do have the entire list but government decided that since it was the first year, and the RFD was just for three months, we would not focus on the same. At this time, the acceptance of the system by all departments was more important to us. Next year, the prime minister will announce the performance scores on the civil services day and everything will be in the public domain.

What is the complete PMES cycle?
In the beginning of the year departments prepare the document and around October we ask departments to give data on mid-term achievements. All of them have already submitted these mid-term achievements as we speak and in the year end we will do the final evaluation. But each of these three processes involves several steps. For instance when RFDs are made we ask departments to give us a draft. The draft is received by a third party that currently consists 60 intellectuals, domain experts, former secretaries to the government of India and people from civil society. This non-government,  independent panel of distinguished experts,  known as the Ad-Hoc Task Force, reviews the draft RFDs at the beginning of the year and offers comments. They negotiate with the secretaries to the government of India on behalf of the people of India.

What happens to RFDs/ PMES after the intervention of these experts?
The experts meet the secretaries and offer their comments. Since the panelists are fair and balanced, secretaries tend to accept their advice, incorporate comments and submit the final draft. Then it is taken to the high powered committed (HPC) on government performance chaired by the cabinet secretary, K M Chandrasekhar, wherein it is again reviewed by the planning commission and the ministry of finance, which make sure that the targets are proportional to the money allocated. Thereafter the RFDs are approved and put on the respective websites of the departments.  A midterm review of the achievments is done at our end and if the deviations are far too much, the cabinet secretary could ask for reasons and offer support.

We must remember that it is not a fault-finding system but we in cabinet secretariat want to facilitate performance. Ultimately the cabinet secretary is responsible for the overall performance of the government. In section 5 of the RFD the departments have to furnish which ministry affects their performance and how. We ensure that the RFDs of each departments incorporate the performance expectations of other departments.

Was there any resistance to the change from political class?
None. The political class also needed an instrument to control bureaucracy. Most ministers find it relieving and say now they know what they need to monitor and where to hold civil servants accountable for results. They acknowledge that till date bureaucrats had tendency to highlight their successes and downplay the failures. Ministers now have a readymade instrument of management control.

Did we follow some international best practices?
The system is an amalgamation of what Malaysians have done, the US has done and most OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) and other developed countries are following it. All countries by and large have some variation of this approach. We have learnt from various countries and our approach represents the best practice. I am told that the government of Kenya is planning to nominate us for an award for public management innovation in the United Nations. I am going to Sri Lanka where the government wants to do the same. At the request of the cabinet secretary of Bhutan I conducted a major workshop in Thimpu earlier this year. The SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) countries asked our cabinet secretary to organise a workshop on our system of government performance management.

Do we also have RFDs for performance management department, cabinet secretariat and the prime minister’s office?
In fact, we started with our department. We had many meetings including a full-day retreat to decide the RFDs for all within the cabinet secretariat. Cabinet secretary is keen to not only have a RFD for the cabinet secretariat but also for all divisions within cabinet secretariat.

Did ministries and departments adhere to the timelines?
Absolutely. In the first round we gave two points to departments in their RFDs if they adhered to the timelines and missing two points could have made a significant difference in overall ranking of the department. Hence, they all ensured timely submission.

Do these RFDs have any linkages to the citizen charter?
We are pushing for the citizen charters. In the second round of RFDs we have made it mandatory for all 62 departments to have a citizen/ client charter. Till date citizen charters were never evaluated. They had no consequence on the governance and remained as a good idea or slogan. But now, we have a measuring methodology. If a department claims to reply to a communication in eight days, we will verify this claim.

You have suggested performance-based incentives and there are discussions on market-driven salaries. When are these likely to be incorporated?
This is part of the second administrative reforms commission’s recommendations. We cannot adopt market-based salaries unless we have a system to measure a person’s worth. New Zealand adopted it but only after evolving a RFD-type framework. Thereafter they started hiring secretaries on competitive basis, through international competition. We too can have it in India but first we must know what we want out of these people.

Civil servants at the senior level are transferred quite frequently. How do you measure their performance?
Now that we have the RFD, we can easily know the impact of transferring an officer. Now we will know that a new officer may not deliver on the commitments of his predecessor, as the predecessor thought through them. In such cases, we can approach the prime minister and apprise him that the performance went down because of the transfer of an officer. This will make it a bit difficult for someone to act arbitrarily on transfers and postings. That is one key purpose of PMES. The system ensures that civil services are governed by a system as opposed to being governed by personalities.

What happens after the evaluation? What does the government do to improve departmental efficiency?
Once the officials have performance evaluations, they can do self-introspection. The department will be in public gaze. When the officials of the department will come for the meeting of the independent group, the group will give them suggestions and hold the officials accountable. The discussions will be focused on performance and helpful suggestions will evolve. The higher authorities will participate and help the department in meeting their requirements.

Beyond PMES as the system, what is still evolving?
The system in the future will be linked to the incentives and then it will be linked to the annual confidential reports (ACR) of the officials. This is an integrated performance management system. Beyond that we are going to work on other areas which impact performance, like knowledge management (KM), and ethics management. Take the example of section officers: some of them are good and some are not. Some don’t even know what best practices are in their area. So knowledge sharing and KM are very important. We are going to bring in a chief knowledge officer (CKO). It is one of the proposals with the government.

Similarly we want to bring in ethics management. Currently we have a code of ethics but we don’t do anything beyond that. We want to work on ethics management as for achieving superior performance “means” are as important as the “ends”.

We also need to look at cost cutting.  There was an expenditure reform commission whose reports are lying unutilised. We want to start reviewing them. We want to look at global indices by which India is measured. One of them is the Doing Business Surveys. India is not very high on the rankings. Through the RFD we can begin to identify which department is accountable for each of the indices that affect our ranking and start to focus on the same. Our rankings have to improve.

We are also asking each department to come up with a five-year strategy. The planning commission is helping us in doing that. Arun Maira is our chief mentor and chief strategy coach. As I said, we believe that what gets measured gets done. But the questions sometimes come up: Are we measuring the right thing? Are we doing the right thing?

Have the state governments shown interest in adopting the system?
Maharashtra has already approved it and implementation is moving swiftly and systematically. In fact, they are ahead of us. Punjab is also implementing the system in a very determined fashion and there is a demand from several other states. We have organised workshops for Maharashtra and Punjab and will soon respond to requests from other states.

Do you look forward to giving incentives to good performers?
Linking the RFD score to performance bonus for civil servants is being considered. Bonus of up to 40 percent of the salary of the secretary may depend on the performance of his department as measured by the RFD. In fact, everyone in the department, right up to a peon, will also be incentivised, except that the performance of the top officials will be more closely linked to the RFD scores. But the performance bonus in bottom jobs will be linked more to the performance on the individual’s job rather than that of the department.

Where does the common man fit in?
First of all, through citizen charters. We are also going in for grievance redress mechanism in a very big way. We are learning from Sri Lanka, which has a single number for all departments where citizens can call and seek information about any government service. They have outsourced it to the private sector. This is among our next big projects.

Will grievances really be addressed?
First, we must have a system. We are ensuring that every ministry’s website has a tab which says “grievance redressal”. Whenever a citizen complains, a copy each will go to the department concerned and us. When the reply goes to the citizen he will be asked to rate the response on a scale of one to five. It may not solve the problem, but unless our interface with citizens improves we cannot make headway in government’s image among common people. 

What is the key to solving  problems?
The difference between developing and developed countries is accountability. Countries with clear accountability develop faster. Unless we fix accountability, we can only shout about theories and options. The key is to hold people accountable to their claims. Just convert rhetoric into reality.



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