Friday, August 1, 2014

Let us think and Act with an open mind to
Develop a Vibrant Democracy – Article 7

Introduction: I have identified thirty obstacles which cause a distorted and ineffective democracy and possible solutions for these. Because very few people have time / inclination to read long articles, these are presented in separate brief articles for pointed attention and easier assimilation. I hope this will lead to spreading of awareness and facilitating point by point debate on each of these for saving our sinking democracy.
(Please keep these articles within easy reach for referring back till the series is completed.)

Management infrastructure

It is a matter for serious concern that the management infrastructure, consisting of ministers and government officials at all levels, has some basic faults.  One such basic fault arises from ignoring the indisputable fact that most efficient governance can be provided  only by professionally qualified and experienced persons, without hindrance from persons without the required qualifications (For details refer to “Illogical positioning” in Article 6). As concluded therein, “All departments carrying out professional services should be headed by professionals who should be given training in management to organize effective professional services. In addition, they should be assisted by qualified administrators for tackling problems in administration within the department” Some other basic faults are discussed below.

Drafting of policies and projects, their implementation after approval by Parliament (when relevant) and carrying out other functions of governance (including services to the people) are done by the management infrastructure. To sustain a vibrant democracy, ministers and all  officials at all levels of this infrastructure should have proper perceptions about (a) democracy and (b) different aspects of management of democracy and a mind set to comply with democratic principles. It is beyond any doubt that if there is no uniformity in the perceptions and mind set within the infrastructure it cannot function as a well-knit unit with full focus on democracy. Disruptions and working at cross purposes are bound to occur frequently and smooth functioning of governance cannot be achieved. Sad to say, no specific efforts have been made to create these basic requirements among ministers and all officials so that they can work in unison. Only an objective study in detail and implementation of its recommendations can help to develop these basic requirements of perceptions and mind set among all members of management infrastucture.

In this context, an idea about the perceptions and mind set of government officials can be obtained by asking some of them, after assuring them of confidentiality, why they prefer a government job. It is likely that the most common reply will be that they feel assured of having a good salary, can work leisurely, enjoy number of holidays and have the security of a pension, all unlike in a common private job – exposing a completely selfish mind set without idealism.

If pressed further about their leisurely work, the truly honest among them may admit that by delaying work they can enjoy people running after them saying “sir”, “sir” and paying some money under the table – exposing an unworthy mind set.

It is very likely that no one will give a reply which includes that they like to work for a democratic government which focuses on development and welfare of people – exposing lack of the required perception and mind set.

Even if a few give a proper type of reply, complete absence of proper perception and mind set among majority of officials is obvious. It is likely that most of the ministers also do not have proper perceptions and mind set. These deficiencies prevent management infrastructure functioning as a well-knit unit with full focus on democracy. This is the second basic fault which is continuing only because no one has questioned it.

When senior officers, after a thorough study of all aspects of any subject based on their long experience, submit (a) drafts of policies or projects and (b) solutions to problems of infrastructure or administration, to the minster for approval, quite often these are modified or rejected by the minster in an unconvincing dictatorial manner to uphold party interests or selfish interests or vested interests. This decision making practice makes a mockery of our officer selection system in which some of the best and energetic minds in the country are selected through competitive examinations and interviews and given long training!! This practice of allowing influence of extraneous factors to score over merit is the third basic fault which is continuing because no one has questioned it.

The above mentioned obviously dishonest and dictatorial practices destroy the belief of all the concerned officers of the department in honest functioning, in addition to belittling their expertise and much longer experience compared to those of the minister. As a result, many of them lose their sense of commitment and / or become cynical - both detrimental to efficient functioning. Even worse, some of them are tempted or forced by circumstances to form a nexus with the minster for undemocratic and non-transparent activities. These result in misgovernance and even many scams. This fourth basic fault of destruction of belief in honest functioning and belittling of expertise is continuing only because these have not been questioned.

Moreover, management infrastructure is not people friendly and has developed arrogance and a negative approach in using their powers. This has put spokes in almost all activities for development and welfare of people. The resultant red tape has given a bad name for the bureaucracy in the country. Even worse, when tackling any problem faced by people, an arrogant and negative attitude of denial of help to people has been all pervasive in a government for the people!! People, whose welfare is of utmost importance in a democracy, have been ironically made to run from pillar to post with anxiety for months. This is the fifth basic fault which is continuing though this approach has received some criticism.

Curbs on positive actions to safeguard democracy are also quite common in the guise of enforcing punitive discipline to harass honest officers. This has been supplemented by an environment of fear and subservience which cloud proper performance. Officers who were honest and sincere have found themselves sidelined and feel discouraged.

Due to various reasons including scope for amassing wealth, lack of transparency has increased. Rules and a protective approach stood in the way of taking deterrent actions against those indulging in such activities. Even more shocking, some dishonest officers have been given promotions or choice postings!! This situation has emboldened many officers to continue to misuse their powers and indulge in undemocratic and non-transparent activities, besides amassing more wealth. This is the sixth basic fault which is continuing though these facts have led to criticism.

About 66% of the IAS officers had very short average tenures of 18 months or less, 24% between 18 months to two years and only 10% more than two years (Times of India dated 01-01-14). This was detrimental to efficient governance because a minimum tenure of two years is required to do justice to any job and about 90% officers did not have it. This has resulted in development and welfare of the people getting sidelined or even ignored. What made it alarming was that frequent transfers were generally made as punishment to honest officers, with some officers being transferred 40 times or more!! The message of encouraging dishonesty is loud and clear.
This is the seventh basic fault which is continuing though these facts have led to criticism.

These demoralizing brief tenures could not have been productive; more so because these harassed officers would not have been in a mood to put in their best efforts. There were also instances of 52 transfers in 31years, 50 in 36 years and 46 in 30 years, in which the officers did not have time even to settle down!! How can they have mental peace to do good productive work? The absence of stability and peaceful work environment is the eighth basic fault which is continuing though these facts have led to criticism.

All these also show miserable failures in personnel management!!

Another problem which retards progress in development and delivery of services of good quality to the people is inter-departmental rivalries and the tendency of some officers to withhold support for progressive action in order to show off their importance and status. Even technical departments are headed by IAS officers and allow professionals to be supervised by non-professionals. This has increased inter-service rivalries which hinder progress as well as accountability. 

Some officials tend to identify themselves with one political party or the other. As a result, interests of political parties are given more importance and national interests are sidetracked or abandoned. When a political party which is not of their choice forms government, these officers drag their feet to slow down developmental activities and thereby try to discredit the party which has formed the new government. To overcome this, deliberate transfer of officers are made with a vindictive mind. This results in the “favourite” officers misusing their powers and those not favoured dragging their feet.  Both create distractions and emotional problems which affect proper functioning of the management infrastructure. In the process, development and needs of the people get sidelined or even ignored.

Some archaic acts, rules and procedures and undemocratic attitudes of officials are not conducive for healthy development and attending to welfare of people, particularly for ensuring maximum benefit to the people. No serious attempts have been made to rectify the situation.

The above aspects depict the twelfth serious obstacle which resulted in a distorted and ineffective democracy.

To overcome this obstacle, a thorough study has to be undertaken to ascertain what stands in the way of the management infrastructure functioning as a well-knit unit with proper mindset, perceptions about democracy and different aspects of management as well as compliance with democratic principles and an attitude of helping people instead of denying services on some pretext or the other. This should be followed by action to remove these bottlenecks.

All officials should attend a specially conducted course which emphasizes the need for a proper mindset, perceptions about democracy and different aspects of management as well as compliance with democratic principles and an attitude of helping people instead of denying services on some pretext or the other, so that they can function effectively as a part of a well-knit organization with focus on democracy. New officials should attend this course soon after joining service.

Comments (especially those which point out errors or deficiencies, if any, in this article and thereby help to improve it) and suggestions to overcome these very serious obstacles are welcome. Please send these to I shall make use of all befitting suggestions to prepare the last two articles of this series – Articled 23 will spell out the basic principles which will guide formulation of the revised system of democracy and Article 24 will outline the revised system of democracy for public debate to arrive at a consensus.

You can help to save our sinking democracy by making as many people as possible aware of these obstacles and possible solutions, through personal group discussions, newspaper articles, e-mail and social media like face book and twitter so that we can have healthy debates and arrive at some innovative ideas to save our sinking democracy.