Business leaders, lawmakers, bureaucrats, judges—anybody who has a bearing on policy—should be tested periodically to determine fitness for their roles
In many countries, every time a driving licence comes up for renewal, the applicant is subjected to a fresh test to ensure that she is physically and mentally fit to drive. Similarly, whenever a passport comes up for renewal, invariably, fresh police verification is done. The applicant is put to series of questions to ensure that she is ‘fit’ to have an authorisation by the government to travel to a different port. In every sport, the players are subjected to thorough tests each season and sometimes every time they take the field—dope test. In militaries and police forces across the world, periodic tests are mandatory for one and all.
Astronauts, seamen and commercial pilots are also routinely tested to ensure their fitness and preparedness. There are innumerable other cases where people performing any public activity or playing a responsible role affecting other people would be, as a matter of rule and good practice, tested periodically to ensure that they are fit and proper for their job.
Thus, it is surprising, rather striking, to note that globally there are no such ‘tests’ prescribed for some of the most important people in public life whose actions, inactions, policies, strategies, and sayings seriously affect the lives of the general public. I am referring to chairmen, MDs, directors and CEOs of private and public sector companies and organisations, bureaucrats at all levels in the government, politicians at all levels (particularly elected representatives to assemblies and Parliament’s Lower and Upper Houses and ministers in governments who are responsible for a very important task: legislation), people in judicial positions, from magistrates to session court judges, high court judges and judges in the Supreme Court, who are supposed to deliver justice by interpreting law and judge actions of parties involved on the basis of neutrality, fairness, without fear or favour and exercising ‘balance’ between various viewpoints on serious matters that come up to them for decision.
I am sure that again as we look around, there would be many more people in positions of power and authority with different levels of responsibilities to be fulfilled, who carry on in their positions without any periodic tests to determine fitness for their roles.
I feel that the need for re-evaluation or test for individuals in this category becomes even more significant today because of rapid changes taking place in society spurred by breathtaking technological evolution, which brings global knowledge and thereby practices closer. Look at the rapid growth and adoption of digital platforms for social media, e-commerce, e-services, other numerous applications touching every sphere of our day to day living and fast-growing use of AI to have greater efficiencies, quality of work and decision making.
The technological advancements leading to such digital transformations are cases in point that have seriously impacted and changed our way of living and working. These changes, in turn, bring commensurate legislative changes—sometimes, so many and so quick that it would take a supercomputer to fully absorb the impact of all of them.
In India itself, some of the recent changes, eg, direct tax code, Companies Act, labour laws, the introduction of GST, IBC, constitutional amendments affecting the application of Article 370, Citizen Amendment Act 2019 (CAA), major changes in Accounting Standards of India (IAS), various laws and rules relating to data privacy in view of the explosion of social media/digital platforms and laws relating to cybersecurity, to list a few, bear testimony to serious disruption in rules, laws and ways of working in our day to day life at a pace which was unimaginable before.
In light of such major changes, I feel it has become imperative for all people in positions of authority and responsibility (some of them listed above) to mandatorily undergo periodic refresher courses with respect to (a) developments directly related to and concerning their work and direct responsibilities and (b) generic developments and advancements as illustrated above. For generic developments, it may be desirable for recognised institutions like IIMs, for instance, to release common study materials periodically, which could be used by everyone.
Such ‘retrainings’ could be, to begin with, left to each institution itself— whether public, private, legislative, executive or judicial—so as to have better and easier acceptability. Similarly, the ‘certifications’ with respect to such training courses could also be left to the respective institutions. It may also be desirable that for such ‘retrainings’ become ‘best practices’, suitable disclosures at relevant places (e.g. in Annual Reports for the company’s senior executives and directors) be made mandatory.
I have no doubt that such ‘refreshed’ individuals will be able to discharge their responsibilities with significantly better quality than what we unfortunately see today in some cases. The absence thereof, on the other hand, could leave many ‘experienced’ professionals out of sync with ground realities and make them redundant, irrelevant and ‘unfit’ to discharge their responsibilities.
Vice chairman, Bharti Enterprises and Author of ‘Some Sizes Fit All’. Views are personal