It will be an open invitation to them to play ball

Updated: Nov 27 2006, 05:59am hrs
Is it possible to re-vamp, reorient and sharply improve the efficiency of the higher civil services through a contract system, linking pay and tenure to efficiency and results delivered There is speculation that thinking on these lines has been set afoot by the Sixth Pay Commission, which is commencing its work now. There is no question that a major reform of the civil services, at all levels is long overduebut is this the way to go about it Can a change of the way the permanent executive functions be an offshoot of a periodical pay revision exercise Can major efficiency result from such stray tinkering Is the efficiency of a senior civil service servant measurable by any objective means

In the private sector, where profit motive is the predominant objective, it is generally possible to link services rendered in the top echelons to contribution to the bottom-line. In fact directors remuneration, hefty bonus packages, and pay-rise are frequently linked to performance, broadly measured through demonstrated contribution to profitability.

Alas, governance in the public domain is a totally different kettle of fish. At senior levels, civil servants are responsible for participation in policymaking and also for oversight of implementation of major programmes. There is no ready yardstick to measure quality of policymakingonly results over a long period will establish the success of a policy, or otherwise. Similarly, programme oversight by a ministry could involve work done in the ministry concerned, sister ministries, other governmental organisations as well as state governments or even the judiciary or Parliament.

Any judgement about quality of performance will necessarily have to be highly subjective, and would almost certainly become a highly coloured exercise. Thus, the telecom policies introduced and institutions created in the mid-90s have led to major growth in the sectorsay in 2005-06, should the current telecom secretary be given credit for the achievement

The Delhi Metro project was conceived, planned and the relevant institutions constituted in the mid-90s; it started its commercial run early in the next decade, with credit claimed by the BJP government at the Centre as well as the Congress government in Delhi State, neither of whom had anything to do with the project. Should the chief secretary of Delhi or the secretary of urban development at the Centre be given credit for the project, since they were present at the inauguration These are simple instances one could multiply them. Policies and performance in the agriculture, education, rural development sectorspractically all sectorstake years to evolve and implement; it will be nave to believe that credit or discredit should go to one or the other senior official. That indeed is in the nature of public servicepart of governance.

Should a district magistrate be punished merely because there is a riot or bomb blast in his district So many factors could be responsible. Indeed, the Liberhan Commission is still working for the past 15 years to identify who was responsible for the fall of Babri Masjid. Governance is not like selling cigarettes or mounting profitable ad campaigns.

In an era when it is common knowledge that there is large-scale and widespread corruption in the higher echelons of governmentand decisions on projects/programmes are taken for political and monetary considerationsit will be dangerous to have a reward/punishment system for senior civil servants based on assessed performancethis will be an open invitation to civil servants to play ball, or get the boot.

At any rate, the average tenure of a district magistrate in the country is about nine months; a secretary to a department in the Government of India gets a maximum of two years prior to retirementhow much shorter can you make the tenure Or will successful civil servants get unlimited extensions and bonuses The proposals are short-cuts, to quickly destroy a fabric that is already fading and rusting. One cannot reform the civil services through such slap-dash, casual and thoroughly impractical means. Above all, it has to be understood that reform of the permanent executive can start only if the political executive is cleansed.

The writer is a former Cabinet secretary, Government of India