failure to deliver has direct consequences in terms of sub-par
economic growth, persisting poverty, unfulfilled potential,
social unrest and political strife. True, we cant
blame the administration alone. Political culture and the
process of power have a lot to answer for. But administrative
failure is as glaring as political shortcomings.
and civil servants play the cat and mouse game. The BBC
television serial, Yes, Minister, is a classic depiction
of this dilemma. The politician is caught between the slow
rate of social and economic payoff resulting from sound
policies and the short-term political price to pay. Competitive
populism and adhocism have become the hallmark of governance.
And yet, even when the policies are right, execution is
tardy and the politician often receives unjust flak. Politicians
and people perceive bureaucracy as inflexible, inward-looking,
and insensitive to outcomes. Bureaucrats lampoon politicians
as short-sighted, partisan, power-hungry and unrealistic.
society needs both, politicians and bureaucracy. Negation
of politics is the road to tyranny. The only antidote to
bad politics is more and better politics. And every system
needs a meritocratic and competent bureaucracy. We have
to pursue both political and administrative reforms in parallel.
begin administrative reform, there are three broad approaches.
First, we need to decentralise administration, horizontally
and vertically. Horizontally, procedures need to be streamlined
to remove all bottlenecks and delays. Take, for instance,
the universalisation of the ICDS, where policy is not disputed.
Yet, theres no light at the end of the tunnel. The
Supreme Court gave a direction to expand ICDS on April 29,
2004. The governments decision to implement it came
on Dec 29. The scheme was included in Budget 2005-06, with
an additional outlay of Rs 1,550. Ordinarily, the scheme
should have been implemented from April 1. But that is not
the way our government works!
are many more stages approval of EFC and CCPA (even
after Parliament approval) and formal sanction of the proposed
new anganwadi centres. But in a complex federal democracy,
even this will not mean delivery. The states are communicated
the sanction details and start their own circuitous process!
The process could take until the end of August 2006 or 2007,
depending on the quality of governance. This, in a scheme
universally acclaimed and fully funded! Clearly, a lot can
be done to improve speed without un-dermining accou-ntability.
we must redesign government on the basis of the principle
of subsidiarity. Any task that can be performed by a small
unit must not be entrusted to a larger one, unless economies
of scale and technical complexity demand it. Financial devolution
and personnel transfer should match functional domain determined
on this basis. Only then will a citizen see the link between
her vote and public good.
government functions are increasingly complex. Policing,
justice delivery, education, healthcare, transportation,
land management, infrastructure, urban management
demand domain expertise, specialisation, sector experience
and deep insights. The colonial practice of recruiting an
all-purpose generalist service, and entrusting any sector
at any time to any civil servant without adequate expertise
is both archaic and dysfunctional. Outside South Asia, no
nation follows such a practice.
to the monopoly enjoyed by the civil services, excellence
is no longer fostered and the public sector is denied the
best talent and expertise. We must recognise that the complex
challenges of a modern economy and society cant be
faced merely by some intuition and conventional wisdom.
The barrier between government and the rest of economy and
society must be lowered, allowing free movement based on
competence and leadership qualities.
we have created a delightfully vague system of accountability.
Authority almost never goes with responsibility. As a result,
we have only victims of misgovernance, but no villains!
Fusion of authority with accountability requires a complete
re-engineering of public institutions and practices. A system
of risks and rewards, strong and independent anti-corruption
agencies, innovative measures for direct citizens
participation, stake-holder empowerment and complete transparency
are vital ingredients of good governance.
do not exist in a vacuum. Our own experience, best practices
in India and abroad, and constant innovations offer us a
guide to improving our public service delivery. What we
need are fierce determination, unrelenting focus on goals,
and the strength to withstand pressure from status quoists.