Saturday, April 27, 2013

Dismal State of Government Offices- The Hidden Problems

Everyone of us has been to government offices for more than one reason. The (lucky) ones who haven’t will be doing it in future and I am hoping that they have a better experience than most of us had. While in most of our visits we have to interact with the lower rung staff mainly peons, clerks (Babu's)  and rarely with officers and we form an opinion based on these interaction. 

(The Government of India has for groups of staff- Group A or the officers that include both non gazette and gazette officers, Group B who are non-gazette personnel a notch below Group A consisting of senior technical assistants etc., Group C which are the admin assistants and Group D which make the bottom of pyramid consisting peons, helpers etc.)

While a common man’s interaction is mostly with Group C & D staff, sometimes with Group B and very rarely with Group A officer, the common public has no or very little idea of rotten system prevalent in Group A cadre and which is the cause of this corrupt system and harrowing experience that a common man faces.

 I joined one of the leading government research organization fresh out of the college as a Group A gazette officer and worked there for close to two years before deciding to move frustrated by the sheer callousness of the people and boot-licking culture. There is a plethora of problems, from the more obvious and visible ones like corruption, nepotism, red tape etc.,  to the more serious but hidden ones. I will try and focus on these hidden problem rather than the more obvious ones:
  1.        Quest for eternal power: The government regulations have set 60 years as age of retirement but gazette officers can get extension up to 65 years and even after 65 years they are hired on contract basis. While this policy would be necessary in 60’s when there was dearth of talent but now it is the main reason for dismal state of affairs. What this has done is that current leaders don’t create a second rung leadership for their fear that the second rung leadership will make them obsolete and they won’t be able to get extensions. In doing so they leave no stone upturned to undermine their likely worthy successors and these successors in turn do the same if and when they come to power. The result is a sorry state of affairs where the leadership spends more time in how to undermine each other than concentrating on the growth.
  2.        No accountability but full credit taking: While talks of accountability and  transparency do rounds in media every time there is a some unpleasant incident but rarely does anyone talks of accountability and credit taking as a core issue. We have grown so used to knee jerk reactions that we will call for the heads one day and very next day spare no words in their praise. Unfortunately, concept of accountability is alien to the government officers but they would be the first to take credit for something for it. Annual targets setting is a mere formality. While the top rung is the first to claim credit they never pass on that credit to the next level officers because of the morbid quest for eternal power.
  3.        Performance Evaluation:  First the welcome change- most government institutions replaced archaic system of Confidential Performance Assessment Report (CPAR) where the assessee didn't get know his rating with Annual Performance Assessment Report (APAR)  where the assessee gets to see his rating and is the last person to sign it before it is submitted to Department of Personnel. What it doesn't address is the most basic problem is that the boss still holds the cards of your career. Though as per APAR the final rating is given by the senior level officer, these senior people have no or very little interaction with the assessee hence the rating by your immediate boss is carried forward making a complete mockery of the system. This simply adds to the boot-licking culture and nothing more. Given the quest for eternal power, I need not explain further that how nepotism power plays and rating is done.
  4.        Appraisals: This is the funniest system that you can ever imagine. Every year, on 1st July, government employees get a basic salary hike of 3% irrespective of their performance, leave alone other things. Recently the government introduced concept of bonuses where it categorizes organization into 3 groups giving one time annual bonus of 15%, 10% and 5%. I am not fully aware of guiding principles for this categorization so won’t comment on the process. But the very fundamental flaw in this system is that a hardworking employee in a bad organization gets no bonus while a corrupt lazy employee in a good organization gets a bonus. The ripple effect is while the former employee feels that his hard work is not appreciated and is inclined not to put the same effort in future, the latter feels, irrespective of I work or not I will get bonus. The outcome loss of productivity.

I have discussed some the problems that may not necessarily affect the common man but are the root cause of the dismal state of affairs in government offices as they tend to trickle down from top to bottom of the pyramid. Just as the corruption begins at the top so does the reformation. In my follow up blog I hope to come up with possible short term and long term solutions to these vexed problems.

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