(Sample Material) Study Kit on Current Affairs for UPSC Mains Exam: Ethics & Integrity: Reforming Public Services: Embracing A New Management Philosophy

(Sample Material) Study Kit on Current Affairs for UPSC Mains Examination

Ethics & Integrity: Reforming Public Services: Embracing A New Management Philosophy

Quality of governance is increasingly being realized as the primary reason behind the success stories of advanced countries of the West. It is widely perceived that India’s dismal record in economic and social development is largely due to poor performance of public services. The administrative machinery is not designed to provide people friendly services, as inefficiency and malfunctioning is marbled into the bureaucracy. The Second Administrative Reforms Commission (l0th Report on Personnel Administration, 2008) had observed, “Often systematic rigidities, needless complexities and over- centralization make public servants ineffective and helpless in achieving positive outcomes. On the other hand, negative power of abuse of authority through flagrant violation of law, petty tyranny and nuisance value is virtually unchecked.”

One of the big challenges that we face in the country today is to reform the public management systems. A large part of the problem is due to our following the Weberian model of bureaucracy which we inherited from the British. The Weberian bureaucracy constitutes a ‘career with a system of promotion based on seniority, fixed remuneration for officials with a right of pension, organized as hierarchy and adhering to rigid rules. Experience has shown that old fashioned bureaucracies are unresponsive to people’s need, as .they are embroiled in red tape and formalism, love tradition and stand for conservatism and status quo. Today’s environment, where developments in the field of computers, electronics and avionics have crushed time and space, demand institutions which are extremely flexible and adaptable, so that they are capable of delivering high quality services to the people and meet multiple challenges in a complex globalized world. Commonwealth countries such as UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Singapore have discarded the Weberian model of bureaucracy and embraced a new philosophy known as New Public Management, with dramatic increase in public service efficiency. The main component of NPM philosophy is devolution of authority, performance contracting and customer focus.

In India, several high level committees and commissions consisting of eminent men, have come out with laudable recommendations to reform public management systems but most of their recommendations have remained unimplemented. As a result, we are trapped in an outdated bureaucratic machine for which the people of this country are paying a heavy price. The main reasons for poor functioning of public services are absence of accountability, outdated laws, rules and procedures, high degree of centralization, poor work culture, lack of professionalism and politicization of services. It is time we bring fundamental reform in public administration and embrace a new philosophy of management.

Bringing Accountability in Public Services

One of the main reasons for poor performance of public services is the lack of accountability. Accountability can be brought about by: (a) linking promotion and career advancement of an officer with actual performance on the job, (b) bringing competition in, civil services and (c) enforcing strict disciplinary regime.

Emphasize Performance

Today in public services, there is hardly any emphasis on job performance and incentive for hard and meritorious work. The roles relating to promotion with excessive reliance on Annual Confidential Reports (ACR) are so framed that everyone gets h is promotion when Vis turn comes and encourages mediocrity. The Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) noted that the existing system of performance appraisal is unsatisfactory and has suggested that it should be transparent with 360 degree feed-back, there should be numerical rating on the pattern of Armed Forces and an independent third party be associated with the assessment. ARC’s most important suggestion is a comprehensive in-depth assessment at important milestones in an officer’s career - first review be done on completion of 14 years of service, and another on completion of 20 years. If he/she is found unfit after second review, the service may be terminated. A government servant’s promotion, career advancement and continuance in service should be linked to his actual performance on the job and the dead wood should be weeded out.

Competition and Specialist Knowledge for Senior Level Appointments

The task of policy making in government is complex and needs specialist knowledge of the subject. Under the existing system, the most senior level appointments in the Central Secretariat as well as top field level posts are made from amongst the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers who are generalists. The Second ARC has observed that the present process of empanelment of officers for the post of Joint Secretary and above is not fair, objective and transparent and overlooks the real merit of the officer and his suitability for a particular job. It has identified 12 domains in which officers should specialize. It has recommended that domain should be assigned to all the officers of the All India Services and Central Civil Services on completion of 13 years of service and vacancies at the level of Deputy Secretary/ Director should be filled only after matching the domain competence of the officer for the job. The Commission has suggested introduction of competition for senior positions in the Senior Administrative Grade and above (Joint Secretary level) by opening these positions to all the Services.

The first Administrative Reforms Commission, far back in 1969, had emphasized the need for specialization by civil servants as a pre-qualification tor holding senior level posts and had suggested that all the Services should have an opportunity to enter middle and senior level management levels in Central Secretariat and selection should be made by holding mid-career competitive examination, which should include interview, to be conducted by UPSC. The Surendra Nath Committee (2003) and Hota Committee (2004), appointed by Government had also emphasized domain knowledge and merit as the basis for appointment to the posts of Joint Secretary and above in the Government.

Enforce an Effective Disciplinary Regime

Presently, the provisions of discipline rules are so cumbersome and torturous that it becomes very difficult to take action against a delinquent employee for insubordination and misbehavior. Thus, once appointed, it is almost impossible to remove or demote ail employee. This is expressed in an epigram, “public employees are like headless nail, you can get them in, but can’t get them out.” This results in poor work culture and all round inefficiency. The provisions of Civil Service Conduct and Discipline Rules are porous and complicated with numerous loopholes and weighted in favour of the delinquent. The Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (2002) headed by Justice Venkatachaliah has noted that, “the constitutional safeguards have in practice acted to shield the guilty against swift and certain punishment for abuse of public office for private gain”, and suggested re-visiting the issue of constitutional safeguards under Article 311, to ensure that while the honest and efficient officials are given the requisite protection but the dishonest are not allowed to prosper in office. The 2nd ARC has expressed similar views and observed that legal protection given has created a climate of excessive security without fear of penalty for incompetence and wrong doing. There is a need to recast the disciplinary procedure so that quick and summary punishment could be given to delinquent employees, while keeping in view the principle of natural justice.

Transforming Work Culture

Presently, most government departments suffer from poor work culture and low productivity. In order to provide cost-effective efficient services, there is a need to downsize the government, improve work environment and privatize some of the services. Both the Central’ and State governments have vast sprawling bureaucracy which needs to be downsized. The Fifth Pay Commission (1997), as well as Expenditure Reforms Commission (headed by K P Geethakrishnan, 2000-01) have given vast array of measures for restructuring, reorganizing and ‘ downsizing various ministries and departments which would bring greater efficiency and cut cost. Some of their key recommendations are: (a) The multi-level hierarchical structure should be reduced and an officer oriented system with level jumping be introduced to speed up decision making.(b) In ministries which are policy making bodies, Section should be abolished and a Desk Officer system be introduced from where noting of the file should begin. (c) The ministerial staff divided in numerous categories such as Assistant; UDC, LDC, PA be abolished and replaced by a multi-skilled position called Executive Assistant who should be computer savy. (d) Government offices should be modernized with provision of computer and other gadgets and a conducive work environment should be created. One of the reasons why the employees have low productivity in government offices, is due to dehumanization of work. Most employees are knowledge-workers and less likely to defer to authority and top down command. They need to be motivated and empowered by giving them more responsibility and decision-making authority. There is a need to create a lean, thin and efficient government machinery by modernizing procedures and work methodology and abolishing the ‘babu’ culture in the government offices.

Streamline Rules and Procedures

A large number of rules and procedures relating to citizen’s day to day interface with government in matters such as issue of passport, registration of property, sanction for construction of dwelling unit, licence for starting a business, inspection of factories, are outdated and dysfunctional and give opportunity to public servants to delay and harass. These rules should be updated, simplified and discretionary power of public servants be eliminated.

A good part of efficiency of a government office depends on personnel, financial and procurement management systems. The rules relating to personnel management are outdated and rigid and give no flexibility to departments to adapt to local conditions resulting in inefficiency. The existing rules relating to budgetary utilization leads to huge wastage of money, as it gives perverse incentive to rush expenditure and use-up allotted funds towards the end of fiscal year in March. Most countries have shifted to multi-year budgeting-UK has now a three year budgeting cycle with no lapse of money at the end of the fiscal year. The procurement rules require buying from lowest bidder after floating a tender. This prevents acquisition of quality equipment and services which could secure value for money. The budgetary and procurement rules should be changed, giving sufficient flexibility to departments to be able to use their judgement to secure the best value for money. The whole system is based on mistrust. Government must repose trust on its civil servants.

Privatization and Contracting Out There is a need for privatization and outsourcing of large number of services which, the government is directly doing in order to improve efficiency and cut cost. There is a strong case for privatization of services like municipal street clearing, garbage collection, security services, power distribution, city transport etc. In an era of liberalization, there is economic logic to privatize those state owned enterprises which are either running in loss or in the tertiary sector of the economy such as hotel, tourism, engineering and textile sector, where they cannot compete with private sector and are a big drain on national resources. There is also a great deal of justification in opening certain sectors of the economy, like airlines and telecom to, private sector, as government does not have resources to meet the burgeoning public demand. Experience has shown that increasing use of competition in the delivery of public services, including competition between public and private sector providers has improved cost effectiveness and service quality.


Today, the working of the Government is highly centralized with all powers concentrated in Ministries and Departmental Heads. There is a need for paradigm shift in this approach and operational freedom be given to persons in the field who implement programmes and schemes by placing trust and confidence in their ability to deliver results.

Advanced countries such as Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Singapore, Japan and USA have revamped their bureaucratic systems and migrated to professional management of the bulk of the government activity through creation of ‘Agency’ or ‘Performance Based Organizations’. In Britain, which took the lead in reforming public services, the Chief Executives of Agency are selected through competition open to public and private sector and are hired on the basis of a contract. Each agency negotiates an annual performance agreement with its parent department that includes measurable targets for financial performance, efficiency and service quality. The creation of Executive Agencies has resulted in substantial gains in efficiency in the British public services. A Treasury and Civil Service Committee of the House of Commons observed that Executive Agencies have brought about ‘overall transformation in government’ and termed it as, “the single most successful reform programme in recent decades”. India should draw lessons from the experience of other countries and move towards creation of Performance Based Organisations for public service delivery. This will make the machinery of government efficient, economical, sensitive to citizen’s needs and transform it into a professional and performance oriented management.

The Challenge

Reforming public services poses a major challenge before the government. The biggest obstacle comes from the bureaucracy, which, with its deep vested interest, resists any attempt to make it performance oriented and accountable. An inefficient, corrupt and supine civil service suits the run of the mill politician in power, as it can be manipulated to do their bidding. Gunnar Myrdal, the Nobel prize winning sociologist described India as a ‘soft State’, its leaders unwilling to take hard and uncomfortable decisions. There is a need for political will at the highest level to bring meaningful reforms. It is time Government makes a sobering realization that public service reform is an essential pre-requisite to alleviate poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition and deprivation from the country and make India a happy, healthy and prosperous place to live.

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