Foundational values for Civil Service
(This article is based on the report of Second Administrative Reform Commission)
The formal actions of governance, no matter how clearly described to the public, mean little more than platitudes to individual citizens until they actually affect their own lives. Until that point they are not socially 'real'. Only when the detailed and diverse phenomenology of the impact is personally encountered, such as the physical character of welfare rooms, the phraseology of application forms, and the closure of streets, tunnels and bridges, does the act of Rule become truly felt and hence 'realized' in a literal sense. It is at that moment that the social meaning of governance is created.
Within each function, the Civil Services is capable of making crucial and essential contributions. Its contribution to Rule is to provide informed direction at many levels and to confer practical and social meaning on policy. As for Response, the Civil Servants fulfils the electorate's assumption that the ballot box can effect change, and at the same time promotes direct citizen input and augments a capacity for constructive dialogue and civic vitality. These contributions to both aspects of governance transcend the separation of politics and administration and provide a more realistic understanding of the bureau's role.
For Weber, the ethical attributes of the good bureaucrat—strict adherence to procedure, acceptance of sub- and super ordination, esprit de corps, abnegation of personal moral enthusiasms, commitment to the purposes of the office—are to be seen as a positive moral achievement requiring the mastery of definite ethical techniques and routines— declaring one's 'personal' interest, developing appropriate professional relations with one's colleagues, subordinating one's 'self' to the dictates of procedural decision-making—through which individuals come to acquire the disposition and ability to conduct themselves according to the ethos of bureaucratic office. As Hobbes realized, it is the duty of citizens not to allow their spiritual zeal to overpower their civic demeanour; and as Weber points out, it is the honour of bureaucrats not to allow their 'personal' commitments to determine the manner in which they perform the administrative duties of their office. And this very 'impersonality' is the source of many freedoms. Weber, for instance, describes the formalistic impersonality of bureaucratic administration—its blindness to inherited differences in status and prestige—as producing a democratic, equalizing effect: 'the dominant norms are concepts of straightforward duty without regard to personal considerations. Everyone is subject to formal equality of treatment'.
Weber (1994: 330) famously described the ethos of bureaucratic office as requiring an official to conduct him- or herself 'sine ira et studio', without passion or prejudice. He went on to argue that state bureaucrats, unlike politicians, should not be seen as, or encouraged to become, partisan party political animals. Certainly, the governmental life-order within which bureaucrats found themselves was distinctively 'political', and official bureaucratic actions could have political ramifications, but this did not mean that bureaucrats were, of themselves, partisan political beasts. Rather, the ethos governing the conduct of officials required them to avoid 'fighting'.
A competent and impartial public administration is a necessary condition for the appropriate performance of its duties; the public must have confidence in the authorities’ discharge of their duties, in accordance with the rule of law and the democratic frameworks. For this reason the reliability of the public administration can be guaranteed only when guiding principles that govern working for the administration are both explicit and known to all those involved. These guiding principles constitute the essence of the appropriate discharge of public-staff duties - and their importance has significantly increased during the past few years. The expansion of the discretionary powers of administrative bodies, the changes in administrative relations and the emphasis placed on interactive policy-making have all created more scope for civil servants’ individual responsibilities.
Very high standards of conduct are rightly expected from Ministers and civil servants. While there is public disquiet, this focuses on fairly narrow issues. The public interest requires that allegations of ministerial misconduct be promptly investigated. Normally this is a matter for the Prime Minister. Who should investigate, and whether to publish a report, will vary from case to case, but in such cases civil servants should not be drawn into the party debate and their advice should remain confidential.
There has been much concern over Ministers who, on leaving office take positions in companies with which they have had official dealings. For two years after leaving office senior civil servants have to seek clearance from an independent advisory committee before joining private companies. The same need to protect the public interest arises with Ministers and special advisers, who should be subject to a similar clearance system.
For both Ministers and civil servants the system should be made more open to public scrutiny than at present. There is insufficient monitoring of the effectiveness of similar arrangements for more junior civil servants, and these should be reviewed.
Very large changes in the management and structure of the civil service have taken place. Greater delegation and diversity mean that more positive action has to be taken to reduce the risk of impropriety. In particular, political interference in the pay and promotion of individuals must be avoided.While the new independent appeal system for civil servants is welcome, better arrangements within Departments for the confidential investigation of staff concerns on propriety are needed.
Value – Centric Civil Service
(Excerpts from the Speech of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Civil Services Day)
I have often said that the future of India is undoubtedly bright. If we look back on the progress we have made in the last fifty years, we can take pride in the positive developments that have happened in many fields. However, the problems of chronic poverty, ignorance and disease still continue to haunt millions of our citizens. We need to work hard and fast to ensure that we are able to eradicate these age-old scourges. And the major obligation of doing so will continue to vest in the government in the coming years.
Fortunately, the economic reforms that have been ushered in over the past two decades have created the conditions for sustained and rapid economic growth – conditions which give fully play to the enterprise and creativity of our citizens. At the same time, it is the economic growth that has provided government across the country the necessary resources to tackle the problem of underdevelopment. We are utilizing this opportunity to make unprecedented advances, investments in the social sectors – investments which will ultimately empower our people to become active and effective partners in processes of development.
The world today looks in wonder at the economic transformation taking place in the country. There is a consensus across the globe that India will be among the top three or four economies of the world by 2025. The real question then is – can we do it? Can we live up to the expectations that have been raised? I am convinced that there are no binding constraints on achieving our objectives. If at all there are constraints or bottlenecks, they are all within our economy and polity. They are all domestic in nature. And it is up to all of us in government to deliver this vision of a prosperous, progressive, inclusive nation.
It is important that we recognize the continuing centrality of government in a wide range of activities and functions. And, the way governments are organized and function can be a constraint on achieving our goals. Effective and efficient institutions form the backbone of a successful development and government process. The founding fathers had the foresight to create the necessary institutional framework which has brought us thus far. We need to think whether this framework is adequate in the years to come; whether past modes of functioning will address the demands of the future in fast changing world; whether skills and capabilities that were relevant in the past have outlived their utility? It is only by asking and answering these questions will we able to identify institutional reforms which will meet the needs of our times.
One of the basic elements of our governance architecture is the presence of an impartial, honest, efficient and fearless civil service. Be it the All India Service or the other Civil Service. They form the permanent structure and backbone of administration. While each performs specific functions, they all have a common ethos and value system. The civil services in India still attract good talent. For this reason civil servants still command respect from the public at large. The challenge before us is to change the role of civil servants in society, without diluting quality and commitment to national goals and concern for standards and retaining the regard of society.
The All India Services, in particularly, have to preserve their “All India” character. They need to carry grassroots experience to the central and national perspective to the states. They need to play a unifying role even while serving in states. They have a duty to ensure that national goals and objectives are kept in mind while acting at the state level. India was designated by the founding fathers four our Republic to be one large common markets of people and goods. Nothing should be done to erode the cohesion of our country. In an era when our polity is getting increasingly fragmented, the responsibility on the All India Service of maintaining a national outlook has definitely increased and not diminished.
At the same time, the context in which all the civil services are functioning has also been changing. Rapid economic growth has led to a manifold increase in the quantum of work. Performance expectations have increased in terms of both speed and quality. The government is no longer seen merely as a law enforcer of a controller of national resources. It is increasingly viewed as a provider – albeit an efficient provider – of basic services and public goods. People expect the government to facilitate growth and development. In this context, civil servants have to shift from being controllers to facilitators and from being providers to enablers. They need to equip themselves with the necessary skills and capabilities to meet these new challenges. They need to master new technologies and new styles of functioning.
Civil servants have on a number of occasions risen beyond routine expectations and beliefs. They have innovated and endeavoured to bring in change in their domain of functioning to make lives of people more comfortable or the government more responsive to the left needs of our people. To sustain and enhance the innovative spirit, it is necessary to encourage and motivate such behavior. I am, therefore, happy to see that one such mechanism for motivation has been introduced this year in the form of Civil Service Awards. I congratulate the two distinguished awardees. I am delighted that the awardees have been recognized for their contribution to the welfare of our citizens. That, after all, must be and is a core function of government in a democracy.
At the same time, I recognize that working conditions for civil servants have become perhaps more demanding. Given the challenges and the changing circumstances, we need to take steps to improve their capabilities are concerned, we are investing heavily in the continuous training of all our civil servants. A mandatory mid-term Career Training Programme has been introduced. This is essential if civil servants have to remain at the cutting edges of modern administrative practices. Police and revenue personnel in particular need to master new technique of white collar crime and tax evasion.
On the morale front, we are trying to make it easier for the honest and motivated among you to be duly recognized and rewarded white the dishonest are punished, I must however recognize that there is a problem here are we have to devise new ways and means of sustaining the morale and providing all possible protection to all honest civil servants. We have already brought out far-reaching changes in performance appraisal formats for officers. We have introduced a special dispensation to improve the working conditions of officers in the North-East. The government will also recognize and reward dedicated and committed officers serving in remote areas and among disadvantaged and backward communities. As a government committed to appropriate affirmative action for all disadvantaged sections, we will ensure that constitutional commitments are fulfilled and that women and minorities in particular are properly represented at all levels in government. Civil servants should be particularly sensitive to the concerns of weaker sections, particularly scheduled castes, schedule tribes, minorities and women and children. As more and more women join our civil services, we must pay special attention to improving work practices and administrative procedure which take into account their special problems involving twin roles as active members of the labour force as well as home makers.
The brings me to the more fundamental question. Are all these measures only a tinkering at the edges? While all these measures will improve the performance of the existing systems and institutions they still beg the fundamental questions – are existing systems themselves adequate? We need to think 20-30 years into the future and design systems, structures and procedures which are robust enough to deliver results far into the future. I already see the stress and strain in many areas of governance and wonder how much longer a creaking system can go on. While economic reforms abolished the License Raj, complaints of Inspector Raj persist – in fact, they may be getting louder.
It is in this context that ‘reforms of government’ becomes relevant. ‘Administrative reforms’ is a phrase that has been used widely to mean many things. It is used by some to mean change of any kind to deal with government problems of any description. Some regard ‘administrative reform’ merely as a means of “making the government work better.” Others in fact see ‘reform’ as “less government’. I view the reform of government as a means of making citizens central to all governments activities and concerns and reorganizing government to effectively address the concerns of the common people. This requires “out of the box” thinking. It requires innovative thought backed up by a mechanism to implement new ideas. We life in a world characterized by unprecedented social, economic and technological change. An efficient management of change should be a key concern of a dynamic and well functioning system of public administration.
It is in this context that we have set up an Administrative Reforms Commission and are committed to early implementation of its recommendations. The ARC’s terms of reference reveal a shift from traditional public administration concerns to more citizen centric governance concerns. A Group of Ministers has been set up to monitor their implementation and the Cabinet Secretary is monitoring steps being taken. I hope that this initiative will fetch results sooner rather than later.
Very often, the most difficult area of reform in government is process and procedural reform. No amount of investment in capabilities and technologies can improve performance and service delivery beyond a point if we continue to be prisoners of archaic procedures and processes. Often, policy reform measures do not deliver the desired outcomes because of lack of forward movement in reform of government processes. This is after all, what gives rise to the so-called Inspector Raj. This is what makes the interface of a common citizen with government a cumbersome and daunting affair. This is often the root cause of corruption as well. When I meet individuals or industrialists, it is this aspect of government which is crying out for change.
Such reform is of course time-consuming and requires sustained effort based on close interaction with all stakeholders. It is not amenable to instant solutions. We need to devise an institutionalized way of enabling such reform. We need to design ways in which can re-engineer government process – just as our private sector has re-engineered itself to become world class. I believe that the Cabinet Secretary has discussed this matter with Chief Secretaries and a proposal is being prepared for appointing “Agents of Change” who would catalyze process reform initiatives. These “Agents of Change” would be public-oriented personnel of outstanding caliber and would be strategically located to engineer reform. They would be free from departmental baggage and work on a full-time basis within the system to deliver results. I am hopeful that once this mechanism of “Agents of Change” takes shape, we will be able to see visible results in a reasonably short period of time.
Even as governmental systems undergo change, greater challenges await us as a country in the development and harnessing of the world’s largest human resources pool. It is estimated that about half of our population is less than 30 years. Old and that situation may prevail for another 35 to 40 years. This is indeed a point of significant importance for any nation. The potential of a “young nation” in a fiercely competitive world can be awesome. But, the potential would remain a potential if the nation fails in realizing its true worth.
This human resources challenge of the country is multifaceted and would require imaginative policy initiatives, through planning, and proper implementation. This governance of human resources challenges would demand transformational changes in the machinery of government as well as tin the workstyle and orientation of government officials. It would require unprecedented managerial capabilities across all levels of government. Our civil services have to play an enlightened role in brining about this king of transformational change. One would have to be intuitive about the present without being constrained by the existing systems. Familiarity should act as a facilitator for change rather than of being a hindrance.
I would think that in this sixtieth year of our independence, our civil service should take on this challenge of improved governance and human resource development, aimed at transforming our country’s economy and polity. I am happy to note that you would be discussing and debating some of these issues during the later half of the day.
The civil service is a professional service and forms the backbone of our governance. It must remain politically neutral and professionally competent. It must also aim to maintain the highest standards of personal integrity and probity. It must remain, as I said earlier, faithful and loyal to the value system for nation building as enshrined in our Constitution and which is also part of the glorious legacy of our freedom struggle. I sincerely hope we can root out corruption in the civil service and raise the morale of our officers so that they can give their very best to our country. Senior civil servants have a special responsibility to promote a culture of excellence, probity in public conduct and concern for social equity.