Archive

Archive for the ‘Articles in Press’ Category

My article on Gauging the Performance of our Civil Servants that appeared in the Deccan Herald dated 26th May 2017

May 29, 2017 Comments off

The Civil Services day is celebrated on the 20 and 21st of April and in this year’s celebration, the Prime Minister Sri Narendra Modi made an impassioned and articulate speech calling upon the bureaucrats to deliver on the mandate of governance.  His speech was practical, sometimes clothed in wit and sarcasm, and at the same time inspirational.  What stood out was his simplistic way of explaining how it was upto the political class to undertake ‘reforms’; how the bureaucrats had to ‘perform’ and how both working together could ‘transform’ the nation.  Beyond the semantics, this clearly meant that the civil services must deliver.  He gently pointed out how the civil servants need to go beyond mere ‘outputs’ and start to focus on the ‘outcomes’ of their actions.  He asked them to expand their sense of accountability from beyond the CAG and to include the common Indian citizen too.  He also mentioned how a few bureaucrats had limited the use of social media to mere self-aggrandisement and how it could be more efficiently and effectively used for doing public good.   When one goes deep into the Prime Minister’s speech and deconstructs it, one can recognize how emphatic he was in his demand for ‘performance’ from the bureaucracy.

The dictionary defines ‘Performance’ as an action, task or operation, seen in terms of how successfully it was performed and most of us have a tacit knowledge of Performance. We can recognize and understand that something is indeed working as it should be, and learn from a very young age to appreciate performance and quality. How does one translate this tacit understanding into something more structured and measurable? Can one measure performance in the public sector and of public functionaries? One can learn from the private sector that has taken the lead in measuring performances of individuals, teams and entire organizations. The public sector is very diverse in the context in which it operates, has egalitarian objectives and is funded by taxation revenues. Hence civil servants need to be more accountable and transparent but paradoxically one does not find these as the primary drivers of performance. By the very nature of having unlimited resources at its disposal, the public sector also tends to become inefficient and opaque over time.  This very complexity has incentivised the system into taking the easier approach of limiting the measurement to simpler variables like compliance to the instructions of the political bosses, absence of any controversial decision making, numerical achievements in terms of beneficiaries reached and budget expended.

Demanding performance of oneself and an organization is a very exacting process that requires discipline, determination and a strong political will to undertake. It requires not just managerial knowledge but a visionary leadership that is constantly evaluating, refining and improvising processes all the time. Performance processes normally fail because the required discipline and rigor wanes over time – one must have the patience and the perseverance to allow the system to mature for results to be produced. Measuring performance is not like instant coffee – made quickly and giving immediate gratification. These systems take time to initiate, evolve, mature, and become organizational culture. Leadership needs to be constant, consistent and serious till the entire cycle has taken root. It also needs mentoring support from experts who are willing to not only design a review process but also facilitate its implementation in the initial phases. The core leadership should take it as sacred responsibility and be willing to make public disclosure of achievements or variances. One must have public displays of the review process and all stakeholders should have a say in not just the design but also in the actual framing and implementation of the reviews.  Reward and punishment behaviours are indeed critical for human performance and public agencies should move away from not wanting to indulge in them. There is a normative feeling that public jobs are sort of permanent and career growth is not necessarily dependent on performance. One must communicate that ‘mediocrity’ need not necessarily be synonymous with ‘public agencies’ and a culture of valuing performance should be created. This can be done only when good performance is rewarded and poor one punished.

Moving towards more qualitative indicators in line with what the PM is demanding will necessitate major paradigm shifts in the mind-set of not just the bureaucrats and the political system but also in the way the common man views the civil servants and their performance.  Performance, when measured with the attitude of seeing the bureaucrat as a ‘public servant’ being paid out of taxation revenues will be totally different from that of seeing them as ‘elite officers’ overseeing service delivery functions. But can the officers of our civil services, who over the decades have got used to operating with neither the transparency nor public accountability be willing to subject themselves to a complete shift in mind set? Will the PM be able to push thru ‘reforms’ and make ‘social audits’ and ‘citizen initiated performance measurement’ of civil servants a norm rather than the exception?  If the PM and his intent can translate into concrete action and result in these paradigmatic shifts, then one can be sure that the much-touted reforms coupled with the performance of a vibrant and energetic bureaucracy will spear head the rising of a ‘New India’.

In Perspective Dec Herald 26 May 17

Categories: Articles in Press, Musings

An article about SVYM, GRAAM and me in the Harvard Kennedy School magazine

November 26, 2016 1 comment
Categories: Articles in Press

Article that i wrote in Prajavani dtd 22.11.16 on Karnataka’s Health System

November 22, 2016 Comments off
Categories: Articles in Press, General

My article on ‘NGOs & future of Civil Society’ in today’s Deccan Herald

July 30, 2016 2 comments

The growth of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) over the last four decades in many parts of the world is phenomenal.  India is known to be home to nearly 3 million NGOs working in different sectors like health, education, rural & tribal development, environment issues and social development amongst others.  They vary in size and sectoral focus and many small charities have now become large, going concerns and some of them rival government departments and private sectors in their scope and ambition.  Few people acknowledge the fact that NGOs are today one of India’s largest employers and have gone into areas where many would dread to enter.  Many of them have done extraordinary work amongst the marginalized and have created platforms for the voiceless across the country.  While the sector has its share of black sheep, one cannot be dismissive about the enormous contributions that a significant number of NGOs have done to the cause of social development in India.  While the Government is well within its rights to demand accountability and transparency from this sector, one should resist the temptation to try and paint all the NGOs with the same brush.  The debate around NGOs usually is one sided depending on which side of the story one likes to hear.  The Government response has been based on anecdotal incidents involving a few high profile NGOs and the changes that it is foisting on the entire sector is likely to have unprecedented consequences.  The debate now should be objective and one needs to address both the myths and the realities that are prevailing and likely to ensue because of the complexity of the eco-system that is getting fashioned by the Government.

The changing taxation laws, the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) act and the constantly changing rules, the Lok Pal act and the inclusion of all key NGO functionaries and Board members as Public servants are a but a few in this list.  On one hand the Govt talks about sustainable development and community participation but is insensitive to attempts by NGOs to become sustainable organizations by themselves.  Limits on the percentage of revenues to determine the ‘Charitable status’ makes the NGOs dependent on external sources of funds –whether it is from donors or Corporates or Government funding.  This frequently reduces many well intentioned NGOs to become contractors delivering welfare services wherever the public systems have failed or have never reached.  While the government wants to promote service agencies, it is now becoming wary of any NGO advocating change or empowering citizens in demanding change.  It does seem ironical that the government is streamlining laws and making it easy for FDI and invites global business leaders to set up operations in India but goes overboard in creating barriers for NGOs from receiving foreign funds or working with global partners. The Government should understand that the ease of doing business should also apply to the development sector and it must not intentionally create barriers that inhibit social action and change.

How poverty is viewed and how it can be tackled is one of the key areas of disagreement.  While the state takes the view of seeing poverty in terms of levels of income, assets, calorie intake, per capita gross national product or a combination of these; many NGOs see poverty additionally as the lack of opportunities, lack of access to Government services, geographical isolation, vulnerability, powerlessness and being ‘voice-poor’. The state response is usually driven by government programs and it finds physical weakness, isolation and income poverty more acceptable and less threatening aspects of deprivation to tackle.  The government tends to neglect discussions around vulnerability and powerlessness which NGOs tend to focus on.  This naturally creates tensions in the relationship and reactionary consequences ensue.  While NGOs may want to see themselves as supplementing Government efforts, the State may see them as threats trying to supplant Government itself.  NGOs also need to appreciate that they do not truly represent ‘civil society’ but only ‘civil interests’.

The changes in the external eco-system will necessarily drive even the best run NGOs to re-configure themselves in order to survive. NGOs will have to now learn new coping mechanisms while at the same time retain the flavour of voluntary action. They will have to learn to survive in hostile environments where politics and tradition compete for pride of place with bureaucracy and international donor agendas. They will have to fashion new strategies to deal with the risks in the environment, their own ambitions, and learn to operate with humility and transparency.  They need to hold themselves accountable not merely to their Boards and donor agencies but also to the Government and the communities that they work with.

The need of the hour is to begin the process of debate and dialogue not just around managing the relationship between the Government and NGOs, but also around the very understanding of poverty and how to manage it collectively.  Unless one appreciates the complexity and enormity of the problem on hand and the need for collective action, this growing tension may result in the disappearance of civil society organizations as we know it.  And the loser will neither be the Government nor NGOs but the people and the nation at large.

-Balu

NGOs & future of Civil Society – DH article 30 July 2016

 

 

Categories: Articles in Press, Musings

My article in today’s Deccan Herald on ‘Refashioning India’s Development Story’

April 4, 2016 5 comments

In the recent World Economic forum, the finance minister of India proudly proclaimed that India was one of the few countries whose GDP was growing and is the envy of other nations.  In his budget speech to the Parliament, he reiterated this fact while maintaining that our GDP would continue to grow in the forthcoming year.  Whether it is the finance minister or our Prime Minister, they do not spare any opportunity to remind the Nation of our economic growth.  While economic growth is a necessity and is welcome, will this alone be enough to shape the destiny of India and its future?  Will the narrative of ‘economic growth’ that our political system and government is fashioning be enough?

Announcements of schemes like ‘Make in India’, ‘Start-up India’, ‘Stand-up India’ and MUDRA will not mean much to the millions of toiling millions, especially in India’s rural areas if we do not see development from a perspective that is different from a blind pursuit of income growth alone.  Development is not just about building airports and highways; it is not even about more roads, hospitals and schools.  They are surely necessary and important, but should only be seen as the consequences of human development rather than the very purpose of it.   Development has also become a buzzword in the past few years and has been used and abused to shape the political and economic discourse of entire nations. It is projected as a broad purpose and justification of all activities, often without answering the questions of whose development and how. Development, in my view should be a ‘constant expansion of human capabilities’ and it can be most meaningful and lasting only when ‘Human’ and ‘Social Capital’ is created and expanded.

This raises the question on whether the many Government welfare and social interventions announced in the recent budget will really bring about any change in the lives of the poor?  Or will it go beyond the political rhetoric and change the face of India.  And what is this change that we desire?  As one thinks about it, one is left wondering if we can bring about change in our attitude, mindsets and physical environment without a change in the entire eco-system.  Will mere income growth and economic progress assure us of these changes?  Or do we need to usher in change at a much deeper human and social level before we begin to reap the ensuing economic consequences?

What kind of human capital are we talking about?  Is it merely the capacity of human beings to acquire enough cognitive information and skills to meaningfully participate and contribute to the ‘economy’?  Or is it something more than that.  What about all the other human capacities that allow him to function freely, responsibly and with dignity?  What about the qualities of compassion, humanism, spirit of enquiry, humor, mindful existence, positive thinking and the intent to be good and do good? Imagine a world that is led by humanity that is responsible in its consumption, respectful of all of nature’s creation, constantly striving for both internal and external peace, harmony and good will.  Such a world would be wonderful indeed, where sharing and caring would be second nature to human kind and the mad rush to acquire everything for just ourselves a thing of the past. Imagine such a world where these self-evolved humans are interconnected and live with the awareness of mutual trust, interdependence and reciprocity.  That is the ‘Social Capital’ that this world badly needs, if it needs to stop hurtling towards self-destruction.

India now needs a new narrative that talks about creating and expanding this human and social capital.  Sustainable development will then not be a mere slogan or a fashion statement that is talked about, but a practical and realistic attempt to build this new ‘India’.   In that new vision for India, development will also be seen as securities and liberties for communities and individuals.  This means that people will have the political space to voice their problems and choose the solution that bests represent them. Dominant players of development – whether they are the Government or Civil Society or the corporate world will then take the time to listen to people with respect and to provide them the platform to articulate their just and legitimate aspirations.  India needs to become a pioneer in translating this vision of development into concrete reality where the rule of law is the norm rather than the exception, where no Indian will go hungry, where human rights is not a mere slogan but a way of life, where democratic participation is not a fanciful aspiration but an everyday expression of citizenship, and where food, nutrition, livelihood, infrastructure, education, health care and religious freedoms are not mere political promises but entitlements of an empowered citizenry. Only when this happens can we call India a ‘Developed Nation’.

-Balu

DH article 4April2016

Categories: Articles in Press, Musings

My article on the Union Budget 2016 in today’s Deccan Herald

March 3, 2016 Comments off

The Union budget of India arouses not only interest but passionate debate across the country.  From Corporate czars to the experts on television shows to the man on the street, everyone likes to comment on the Union Budget.  Each one tends to see it from their own perspective and form opinions that are driven by both objective and subjective analysis. After a week of talk, most of the excitement dies down and very few even remember either the Union Budget or the long term consequences of the same.

While Analysts called the budget of the year 2015-16 as being pro-corporate & urban-centric, they are quick to rush in with the view that this year’s budget is pro-farmer and heavily skewed in favour of rural India.  There were also criticisms that last year’s budget did injustice to the much needed social sector programs and the poor of India.  We must understand that the budget document reflects the core fiscal policy of the government and should not change based on political compulsions alone. While the budget is indeed prepared on a year to year basis, a reasonable policy continuance is to be expected from the Government in power. From this perspective, this year’s budget has indeed moved away from being such a policy document reflecting the thinking of the ruling BJP party and seems to be influenced by their recent electoral defeats and the upcoming elections in 4-5 major states. While this may give them electoral dividends in the short term, they should not lose sight of the long term impacts that it will leave on the nation and its citizens.

The last year saw two major policy changes that emerged. One was the fiscal decentralization from the Center to the States and the second was the transfer of social sector responsibilities to the state governments. An analysis from this perspective would be critical to appreciate whether the enhanced allocations made to the social sector in this year would result in visible and sustainable change in the year to come. Many schemes were regrouped and slashed and only a few ‘core’ ones were financially supported by the Central Government. The rationale offered was that the states had access to enhanced allocations of 42% under the fiscal decentralization plan and that they had to prioritize relevant social sector programs locally. The reality of the situation is that the transfer of responsibilities to the state governments across a range of development sectors was not matched by adequate increases in their spending capacity.  Existing administrative and program implementation capacity has been permanently affected and any enhanced allocations cannot remedy the situation immediately.  Moreover, the basic issues of corruption, inadequate monitoring and lack of desired levels of accountability have not been addressed so far.  While welcoming the step towards fiscal federalism, we need to appreciate that social sector expenditures made by all states historically in the last fifteen years has not exceeded 40% of the total expenditure.  Therefore, in order to realize the Centre’s expectations that the states shoulder major responsibilities of provisioning for the social sectors, would only be possible under massive reprioritization of spending patterns in the states as well as flow of adequate resources to fund these expenditure priorities.

It is from this hindsight that the Finance Minister and the Government should view this year’s budget.  Social development is a long drawn process and is painstakingly slow.  It is also driven by stable policy support that the Government in power provides. This necessitates that programs and schemes be driven not by political exigency but by the ground realities that prevail.  An economy in transition with widening inequities needs a sensitive, understanding and stable government with clearly thought through long term policies.  The Government also needs to understand that the poor and the socially excluded no longer need elaborate and complex safety nets in terms of sops and subsidies.  They need a state that can ensure that their human and social capital is steadily and consistently expanded over periods of time long enough to get them to participate in wealth creation.  This is the only way to ensure economic dividends both for them and for the nation at large.  This translates as budget support to ongoing programs over long periods of time, enhanced monitoring of the implementation process, redefining performance standards for the executive, and engaging citizens in the process of their own development. It also calls for an innovative description of the concept of co-operative federalism where both the Centre and the States agree to a minimum acceptable level of social progress and to hold each other accountable in delivering on the same.

While the Prime Minster likened the budget presentation to his annual exam, one must realize that the results of this exam cannot be declared in a week or in a year, but only after many years of demonstrating disciplined excellence by his Government.

-Balu

DH budget article 03 03 16

 

Categories: Articles in Press, Musings

Death of Democracy and development in Karnataka

February 22, 2016 1 comment

Democracy can be meaningful and productive for the people only when Institutions that are created by the legislative frameworks are allowed to operate and deliver on their mandate.  Democratic Institutions are necessary to maintain social order and human progress by creating or enforcing rules. Such Institutions are truly effective only when they are manned by people with both the moral authority and technical capacity to run them. These Institutions have a great role in a particularly ‘noisy’ and ‘unhealthy’ democracy like ours. They are critical in an eco-system like India’s where people are not generally known to follow rules. Most Democratic Institutions play a ‘regulatory-enforcing’ role and their efficacy depends on the extent to which citizens believe that a reward or penalty will be forthcoming if they take or refrain from taking a particular action.

The Institutions can deliver on their functions and role only when both the citizenry and the ‘rule-making’ legislators accord them the respect they deserve. The most evident expression of respecting an Institution is by following the rules that these Institutions are mandated to enforce.  Institutionalized rules and the beliefs they help form enable, guide and motivate most individuals to adopt the behavior associated with their social position.  The king’s strength comes not from his army but from the beliefs held by each member of the army that everyone else will obey the king’s orders and that the best response is also to obey.  Another critical element for the smooth functioning of democratic Institutions is the credibility and reputation of these Institutions themselves.  One of the signs of good governance in a state or country is measured by how effective and efficient are these democratic Institutions.  Going by this standard, the state of Karnataka has a sorry story to tell.  The last three years has seen a steady and systematic decline in the standards of the many democratic Institutions of Karnataka.  More critical is the scant respect that the political executive is showing these democratic institutions. Apart from not boding well for Democracy, it also has irreversible and long term consequences that Karnataka may not recover from at all.

Let us first take the example of managing the bureaucracy and posting of officials at all levels.  Politicizing personnel administration is the beginning of the degeneration of governance.  For Democracy to be effective, the executive should neither curry political favours nor the political establishment use postings and transfers as rewards shown to compliant officers.   Karnataka’s administrative fabric has further been corroded with postings to very senior positions across the state being made on caste grounds.  Today we see more than 400 key and senior positions filled with people of one particular caste group.  Apart from weakening the administrative machinery, it also upsets the fragile social fabric that is prevalent in the state.  Unfortunately, this will set in motion an irreversible process where future governments and politicians will make caste aligned postings a norm.  To make matters worse, we have legislators and ministers insisting in having senior officials transferred out on grounds as flimsy as not receiving their phone calls or for missing their names on the invitation of public functions.

Appointments to all the Commissions are no longer based on the ability or the competence of the person being appointed.  Proximity to the Chief Minister, political affiliation and caste compulsions seem to be the deciding factors.  The controversy that surrounded the appointment of members to the Karnataka Public Service Commission is well known.   The recent appointment of members to the Information Commission also reveals the mindset of the Government.  The Chief Minister’s Principal secretary has been rewarded with the post of the Chief Commissioner even before he officially retires.  Other members have been appointed to the important body based on their political affiliation and the loyalty shown to political masters when they served in the Government.   Reducing asymmetry of information is critical to ensuring social accountability of the government and one wonders how a politically aligned Information Commission will render justice to its role.

Recent imbroglio and corruption scandal that the Institution of the Lok Ayukta was subjected too has all but eliminated public trust and faith in its role in fighting corruption.  The allegation that the son of the then Lok Ayukta indulging in acts of corruption and the Lok Ayukta holding onto his post till he was nearly impeached has all but made this Institution a public joke.  To make matters worse, the Government has not made any credible attempts to appoint the head to this decaying body.  One also wonders if the appointment to this post will also be driven by political and other compulsions rather than seek out a credible person of stature who can restore some semblance of dignity and probity.

Though other commissions like the Child Rights Commission and Women’s commission have members appointed to them, one can see the role that political patronage and caste equations have played.  Institutions like the State Human Rights Commission serve the critical purpose in ensuring that the State does not over extend its reach and one worries on its losing its importance with lobbying happening to occupy the chair there too.

The Chief Minister and his council of ministers need to realize that Governance will not happen accidentally. One needs to be deliberate, strategic and intentional about providing good governance to the people of the state.  And Democratic Institutions serve the vital role of not only ensuring checks and balances within the system but also enabling a constructive relationship between the state and the citizenry.  Apart from weakening these Democratic Institutions, trivializing them will further erode public faith in them and their functioning.  And the loser will not just be the citizens but the entire state of Karnataka including the political establishment.

The Kannada version of this article appeared in page 7 of Prajavani on 22 02 2016 Democracy-Dev Prajavani 22 Feb

– Balu

Categories: Articles in Press, Musings