Friday, 6 July 2012

Governmental Processes- strengths and weaknesses

Extract ARC2: Report 13 "Organisational Structure of Government of India", pgs 126-130

[Note: to be read with Existing Structure of GOI: Strengths and Weaknesses]

a. Record keepingWhile the present system undeniably creates voluminous manual records, the use of this data remains constrained due to lack of proper categorization, referencing and access systems. 

b. Institutional MemoryA robust record maintenance system helps in the creation of an institutional memory of past policies and precedents that can guide future decision making.Over-reliance on precedents, discourages independent application of mind and inhibits creative approaches to problems. Another drawback is that even in routine decision making where such institutional memory can be best used, absence of effective data retrievable systems leads to ‘cherry picking’ precedents to suit one’s convenience.

c. Accountability: An elaborate system of paper based records helps in pin-pointing responsibility for each decision made in a Government Department. In theory, this would also ensure that accountability can be enforced for wrong decisions. In practice however, the system fosters risk avoidance and inhibits free and fair expression of views by honest officers for fear of reprisal on the one hand while the involvement of multiple individuals in the decision making process can lead to diffusion of accountability.

d. Inbuilt Redundancy-self CorrectingExamination of an issue on file by multiple levels enables repeated scrutiny which in turn enables correction of errors and omissions at any particular level and thus creates a 
kind of self correcting mechanism.

e. Insulates Individual Functionaries from Extraneous InfluencesThe present office procedures enable individual functionaries to record their independent views on the files. The system, at least in theory, safeguards the right of expression of individual functionaries and protects them from extraneous influences and victimization, more so with the coming in force of the Right to Information Act.

a. Multiple Layers Lead to Inefficiency and DelaysThe Manual of Office Procedure lays down at least seven to eight levels –from the dealing hand to the Minister - through which papers usually pass before decisions are taken. It has also been observed that many of the levels do not make any significant contribution in decision making. Multiple scrutiny inevitably leads to delays, and abdication of responsibility in the examination process in the erroneous belief that other levels would ensure adequate analysis.

b. Fuzzy Delegation: The multiple levels, as stated above, combined with vague and/or inadequate  delegation encourages ‘reverse delegation’ of work to higher levels. This is particularly because the Manual is extremely vague as regards the specifics of delegation especially at the level of under secretary/Deputy secretary/Director/Joint secretary.

c. Focus on File Management at the Expense of outcomes: The Manual does not appear to recognize that the goal of process compliance is subservient to the goal of achieving the outcomes targeted by the Department. For example, the ultimate objective appears to be ‘Final Disposal’ of a case.

d. Reactive Rather than Proactive Approach: The Manual of Office Procedure appears to emphasise the action to be taken on receipt of papers rather than on a proactive approach towards the Departments’ priorities.

e. Absence of Team-based Working: The multiple levels along with division of task into separate units leads to creation of quasi-independent silos within each department. complex issues requiring a multi-disciplinary approach thus get embroiled in turf battles rather than generating a holistic approach. The need for inter-disciplinary work teams for dealing with crosscutting issues is not met due to the hierarchical and heavily segmented structure combined with procedures that constrain team efforts.

a. Well-defined delegation at all levels.
b. Minimising levels to reduce delays:  Though the Manual of Office Procedure provides for ‘level jumping’ (akin to Gangplank of Fayol- Spurthi!).The commission feels that the number of levels through which a file should pass for a decision should not exceed three.
c. Shift from process compliance to outcomes
d. Innovative approaches through multi-disciplinary work teams
e. Shift from an ad-hoc application of precedents to systematic classification and transparent use of past records.

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