There could be no two opinions about the need for the political leadership and the bureaucracy in a functioning democracy like India, to work in sync for the optimum implementation of the government’s programs. Unless the two wings of the democratic system work in tandem, implementation of the programs would be fraught with the prospects of the watering down of the effect of the result when it trickles down to the common man who forms the fulcrum of the system of governance. A flawed officialdom, with uncooperative civil servants in its ranks, is the biggest handicap that any government that aspires to translate into action the lofty principles of the ruling party for the betterment of the masses it is mandated to serve could be saddled with. A recalcitrant civil service is far worse than a vindictive political Opposition, which goes at the ruling party hammer and tongs at every available opportunity, with or without provocation.
While the ruling party could add, in the course of taking on a vindictive Opposition, strength to its political muscles and ideological armour by devising ingenious counter measures, a flawed administration would turn out to be its very undoing by failing or refusing to carry across to the public the government’s message of development in real terms. And yet, it is the party in power that would be upbraided and penalized by the voters at the next round of hustings for failing to fulfill its mandate, leaving the faceless bureaucracy out of the pale of accountability. The secret of successful governance is, therefore, for the political leadership to keep an alert and watchful eye on the bureaucracy for ensuring the vindication of its raison d’être.
No government worth its name could afford to be far too heavily dependent on the officialdom for the effective dissemination of its policies and programs in absolute terms among the voters; nor could it completely divest or distance itself from the motions that the administration meanders through. Aside from the inept and corrupt officials who owe their selection and induction into pivotal positions in the system and survival to an erstwhile political dispensation, a top heavy system of administration with reluctant bureaucrats at the higher levels, with ideological proclivity and leanings of loyalty towards a party in the Opposition, is fraught with the risk of the frustrated elements working against the political interests of the prevailing dispensation. It is, therefore, important that the inept and corrupt elements in the civil services are identified and rendered harmless by a government immediately on its induction into power. It is for this purpose and in the overall interests of the nation that timely reforms in the bureaucracy assume relevance and importance.
Integrity and Loyalty
Officials who constitute the bureaucratic machinery are not expected to have political leanings or strong ideological proclivities. In fact, they are supposed to be apolitical and concerned only with the implementation of the government’s policies and programs. However, being the products of high portals of learning and academic milieu that are usually a hotbed of conflicting political ideologies and diverse economic theories and being endowed with bright minds given to free thinking, they frequently find themselves in a quandary of having to merely execute the programs and schemes conceived by their political masters. Having been pitch-forked to the pinnacles of the prestigious administrative service, their rise at a fairly young age to the much-coveted positions of power makes them feel quite at liberty to weigh the merits and demerits of a governmental program albeit within the confines of their own mind. Hence, unless totally convinced about the desirability, viability and feasibility of the program, they would find it extremely difficult to throw themselves headlong into its implementation.
A half-hearted or ham-handed attempt to implement the programs or schemes is a surefire way to make them turn into fiascos. Nevertheless, the certain prospects of career progression, compounded by the proximity of the political leadership and its dependence on the officialdom, which is the solid bedrock of the system of governance, has the corrupting influence of infusing the public servants with a numbing sense of complacency with regard to the their secure positions and a false sense of unbridled power. Being not always a party to the process of decision-making despite being the sword-wielding arm of the executive authority for the implementation of schemes that they might personally not approve of in toto, civil servants often find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place.
Notwithstanding the unenviable position they find themselves in, unless the bureaucrats are alive all the time to the fact that they are a mere cog in the wheel of the administrative machinery and that the power they wield flows from the service that they get to render to the nation and its populace, they become victims of arrogance and corruption, which bring them perilously close to the shifting sands of the political quagmire. Out of self-interest, an indifferent or corrupt government official tends to drift away from loyalty to the nation and may become close to a powerful politician who is interested in the pelf and not in the policies. Hence, it is important that at the very initial level of their induction into the administrative service, the candidates are sensitized about their loyalty having to lie with the nation and the Constitution and nowhere else. Their performance should be result-oriented, and the end result of the service they render should be for the welfare of the public and the interests of the nation.
Extraneous considerations such as promotion of the interests of the self-serving politicians or the narrow, selfish goals of the corporate behemoths who underwrite the corrupt politicians should not be allowed to cloud their perception or taint their performance. In addition to putting in place an effective mechanism to ensure selection of the right candidates who do not owe allegiance to political parties, it must also be ensured that the entrants to the civil service do not become votaries of alien ideologies like religious fundamentalism and loyalty to regional or international forces that are inimical to the territorial integrity or cultural ethos of India. It is equally important to monitor their objectivity in the carrying out of their functions throughout the duration of their career. To this end, the system in place should be fortified with reform measures.
Once inducted into the services and deployed in positions of power, administrators should dedicate themselves to the service of the nation. They have no choice but to toe the line of the government so long as its programs do not militate against the Constitution, the law of the land or prescribed financial norms and propriety. The more a bureaucrat is motivated by the bonafides of a program and convinced about its viability and usefulness for the targeted section of the society, the more successful would be the scope for implementation of the program. This does not call for the civil servant to go out of the way to identify himself with the political ideology of the government. A total application of his concerted efforts to making a success of the programs is, however, absolutely necessary.
It would, therefore, be appropriate in this scenario to consider “party-line bureaucracy” for a workable solution while deciding on the appointments as well as the transfers and postings of senior officers. This calls for the appointment of civil servants not only on the basis of their professional competence but also on the basis of their affinity, enthusiasm and ideological orientation for the economic policies and political principles of the party in power. This measure would not only ensure that candidates with right credentials and qualities are posted at the right place and at the right time, but they work at optimum efficiency and propitious productivity as well on account of their total commitment to their work.
Flab and Deadwood
A peevish or petulant civil servant whose loyalty lies with the forces that are working for the debunking of the government’s credibility or a timeserver who believes in merely enjoying the pecuniary benefits, perks and privileges that his position entails constitutes the flab of the system or deadwood that has to be weeded out for the overall good of the system. Security of a job, no matter how high, should not be at the cost of its incumbent having to be carried along at enormous costs to the nation.
When a welfare scheme announced by a government is promptly taken up for implementation and relentlessly pursued till its completion, it is not only the end users but also the political party in power that conceived and carried out the scheme that ends up as the beneficiaries. Should the implementation of the scheme, however, turn out to be a fiasco either on account of administrative bottlenecks or the lackadaisical attitude or indifferent approach on the part of the administrators, much disenchantment follows, resulting in the political disposition drawing flak. While politics is universally derided as a major breeding ground for corruption and politicians, cutting across the party spectrum, heckled as unscrupulous wheeler-dealers, government officials stay firmly ensconced in a relatively safe reproach-free zone of officialdom.
Individually, government officials are seldom held responsible, either by the administrative machinery or the media, for their lackluster performance, let alone for procrastination or peevish disposition about the government’s ambitious programs. Such a lopsided state of affairs hardly augurs well for the equation between the government and the civil services to remain on an even keel. Suffice it to say that for the sake of maintaining a harmonious working relation between the two wings of governance, the current state of affairs wherein the administration is hardly held responsible for the failure of the government’s programs and schemes should be reviewed and suitable reform measures introduced. This would make the officialdom accountable for its actions and non-actions and also answerable to the government in a more explicit manner than at present.
Equally important to making public servants responsible for their actions and answerable to the people’s representatives in power is to insulate them from the whims of self-serving politicians who might try to implicate them in dubious deals, murky scams and insidious scandals of financial impropriety. Unless bureaucrats feel totally safe about their positions in service, they may hardly be expected to have the cojones to resist the pressure tactics of corrupt politicians, let alone expose their corrupt deals. It is, therefore, absolutely necessary to have a system of protection of the whistle-blowers. The absence of such a system and an appropriate mechanism to monitor it would likely result in the withering away of honesty in the most spirited civil servant of unimpeachable honesty and stoutest integrity. Suspension, frequent transfers and maligning of the image and personal reputation are some of the risks that the honest and upright government officials dread at the hands of vindictive politicians in the event of their choosing to spill the beans and unearth corruption in high places.
Measures to Boost Performance
Once an appropriate mechanism is put in place by the government to create a fear-free atmosphere for the administrators to operate, it would have already traversed half the way to creating the right conditions for the enhancement of the performance of the officials. The process would be complete when the government creates a framework wherein the public servants are called upon to think, plan and execute projects a la CEOs in the private sector companies. Furthermore, officials who are credited with outstanding results in their assignments should be generously rewarded with promotions, plum postings, etc. Needless to say, encouragement of honest and enterprising officers with such rewards is as vital as weeding out the deadwood to make a viable system of bureaucracy
Priority Areas for Reform Measures
The system in vogue at present to assess the performance of the government officials is for the Performance Management Division of the Cabinet Secretariat to gauge the work output by the use of Result Framework Documents (RFD). This system pegs the weightage to processing goals at over 80% and that of the outcome goals at less than 20%. Consequently, there is hardly any pressure on the administrators to be result-oriented as their performance is not assessed solely by the results generated. This is not a very happy situation for the system to differentiate between the achievers and the deadwood. The situation could be ameliorated by improving upon the current practice. Appropriate RFDs, having some Measurable Time-bound Real Outcomes (Metros), could be designed and used to boost the performance of the government officials and make them more accountable to the system.
The officials should also be sufficiently empowered to be able to achieve the targets. Induction of well-qualified and motivated candidates in high places of hierarchy, ensuring that they do not become victims of shifting goalposts of loyalty, safeguarding the interests of the honest and upright officers who not only refuse to kowtow to corrupt politicians but also have the cojones to expose corruption in high places, rewarding achievers and performers, weeding out of the deadwood as well as periodic and prompt monitoring of the efficacy of the system are some of the priority areas for the introduction of administrative reforms. This will make the bureaucracy a lean and mean fighting machine.
The earlier the reform measures are initiated and seen through, the healthier the condition of the administration. Otherwise, it become more and more of an end of the road for the hopes of honest and upright officers and a stagnant pool of corruption and mediocrity on the part of inept and indifferent officers under the watch of self-serving politicians. This would be to the disadvantage and dismay of the nation, which would end up being the ultimate loser in spite of the ingenious and lofty schemes of the political leadership.