(Sample Material) Gist of IIPA Journal: Citizen’s Charter - An Instrument of Public Accountability: Problems and Prospects in India R.B. Jain

(Sample Material) Gist of Important Articles from IIPA Journal

Topic: Citizen’s Charter - An Instrument of Public Accountability: Problems and Prospects in India R.B. Jain

Strategy of Introducing Citizen’s Charter in U.K.

Until the decades on 1980s, growing state activity, increasing complexity of administration, consequential explosion of points of contact between the State and the citizen has made control of maladministration and administrative injustice an impossible task for both an over burdened court system and elected representative injustice an impossible task for both an over burdened court system and elected representative. Even introduction of the idea of a system of Ombudsman has failed to secure a modicum of public accountability, which would ensure prompt, qualitative, and cost-effective services to the citizens.

Three Reform Steps Preceding the Charter

Since the time of Margaret Thatcher as the Prime Minister in 1970s, the government of Britain has introduced the idea of rolling back the frontiers of State as a means of reducing unnecessary burden of State in the name of ‘welfarism’. By early 1980s, the government was seeking ways of improving quality of public services without adding to their costs. A series of major reforms were instigated, aimed at injecting greater economy, efficiency and effectiveness into the public services. These were Efficiency Scrutiniser (introducted in 1979), the Financial Management Initiative (FMI in 1982), and the Next Steps Programme (NSP in 1988), which provided the foundation from which the citizen’s charter was launched. In order to raise standard of public services by making them more responsive to the wishes and needs of the users, Prime Minister John Major launched the strategy of the Citizen’s Charter in June 1991.

Its Main Four Themes

The four main themes to Charter strategy are quality, choice, standards, and value. It is based on the recognition that all public service are paid for by individual citizens, either directly or through taxes. Therefore, they are entitled to accept high quality services, responsive to the needs, provided efficiently at a reasonable cost. Where the State is engaged in regulating, taxing or administrating justice, these functions too must be carried out fairly, effectively and courteously. The six key principles of Charter programme spelled out in detail at the later stage are setting standards, information and openness, choice and consulation, courtesy and helpfulness, putting things right and value for money. The Charter initiative embraces greater competition, independent scrutiny of public services, greater accountability and openness and a programme of management change to improve public services. British citizen’s charter mechanism are predicated on a continuation of efforts to promote competition and otherwise build market incentive into the delivery services. In the 1990s, the creation of a competitive environment for a government agency, where this can be done, is widely seen to be the best means of ensuring that the expectations of its customers are satisfied.

Cabinet Minister for Its Implementation

In order to implement the programme, the then Prime Minister John Major had appointed a Cabinet Minister with responsibility for carrying the programme forward. In Britain, the Citizens Charter is now enmeshed with the Next Steps Programme, the continued commitment to privatisation and competition (with at least temporary regulatory features), the marketisation of public services and the withdrawal of government to an empowering justification.

These foreshadow different governing functions for the State, the delivery of public services through markets, or their imitators, an accompanying change in orientation towards customer satisfaction (this is the visible face of the Charter), and a concept of citizenship based on rights and duties.

The Citizens Charter can also be viewed as rejecting series of innovations within government designed to bring the rhetoric of contracts to bear on the provision of public services. It provides the opportunity to put in place a market system within the public services sector in the guise of empowering citizens. For the British public service, the Citizens Charter became one of the most ambitious programmes for radical reform in the long history. However, the principles that underline it are not unique to British alone, more responsive public services are the common goal of many governments across the world.

Key Elements of Setting of Charters

The key elements in the setting of citizen’s charters mentioned above can be spelled out as under:

1. Standards: Setting, monitoring and publication of explicit standards for the services that individual users can reasonably expect. Publication of actual performance against these standards.
2. Information and Openness: Full, accurate information, readily available in plain language, about how well they perform and who is in-charge.
3. Choice and Consolation: The public sector should provide choice wherever practicable. There should be regular and systematic consolation with those, who use services. User’s views about services and their priorities are to be taken into account for final decisions on standards.
4. Courtesy and Helpfulness: Courtesy and helpful service from public servants who will normally, wear name budge. Service available equally to all who are entitled to them and run to suit their convenience.
5. Putting Things Right: If things go wrong, an apology, a full explanation, and a swift and effective remedy to be offered. Well published and easy to use complaint processes with independent reviews, wherever possible to be introduced and maintained.
6. Value for Money: Efficient and economical delivery of public services within the resources, the nation can afford. And, independent validation of performance against standards.

Several Charters by Public Agencies Enforced

A number of Citizen’s charters developed by various public agencies have been in vogue in the United Kingdom since 1991. Titling a government document, a Charter implies a social contract and rights are secured as a result. However, it may be noted that Charters are not expounding new legal rights or obligations but rather stipulating existing rights and detailing good practice, which exists in some cases and should, in the government’s view be the norm. Similarly, the language of the various charters refer the uses of the services by public offices by in variety of terms citizens, client, consumers, customer and lately users, although there are significant distinction between these categories. These are treated synonymously. Much of the rhetoric associated with the Citizen’s Charter invests the initiative with the ability to empower users through greater opportunities to voice their desires, opinions and grievances. Within the six basic principles of the Charter Scheme referred to above—standards, information and openness, choice and consolation, courtesy and helpfulness, putting thing right, and value for money. Three aspects are of particular importance within the context of feedback mechanisms outlined in the Charter programme. These are evaluations through an inspections system and survey of users; complaints—the grievance procedures and types of separation; and information—the publication of results, which cross-sector comparison.

Charter Espouse ‘Total Quality Approach’

The concepts of citizens charter is although ostensibly designed to introduce the ‘total quality approach’ in improving the level of service in public organisations, and increase user improvement but inherently one of its most central concerns is the reorganization of management structure and financial responsibility of the organisation involved in public service provision and delivery. The Charter Mark Scheme, a kind of “Olympic Gold” for public services goes so far as to encourage the use of (a) wide variety of quality assurance schemes…..including British Standard 5750 (and its international equivalent ISO 9000)’. The link between management change and the improvement of the user’s situation is based on the clear presumption that standards will be progressively improved as services become more efficient. The importance of managerial change in the governments plan for the future are apparent and as argued by Tritter, the structure changes which should be made clear separately from the Citizen’s Charter and its claim concerning user empowerment. Since June 1998, the Character Office is United Kingdom has been renamed as People First Unit, signifying the precedence of people over other things.

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