No comfort zone

Government must guard against bureaucracy settling back into paralysis.

Too much is being made of the government decision to change the personal staff of former ministers. Too much is being made of the government decision to change the personal staff of former ministers.
Published on:August 5, 2014 12:47 am

By: K.M. Chandrasekhar

There has undoubtedly been a flurry of activity on the administrative front in the last few weeks at the Centre. A certain sense of orderliness and purpose has been instilled in the administrative structure. There is a feeling of accountability and some degree of uncertainty regarding the manner in which the new political masters will respond. Some uncertainty is good for the administration. An entirely predictable top executive can create complacency in the more pedestrian, less motivated civil servant. From what I read and hear, timelines have become more important and some objectives have become clearer. These are early days yet and once a new equilibrium is found, things could settle back into a state of comfortable somnolence. This is what the government must guard against.

It is significant that this change in outlook and mindset has been achieved without massive changes in personnel at senior levels. Very often, and more particularly in the states, a change in government inevitably leads to a chain of transfers followed by more transfers and yet more transfers. This time round, at the Centre, senior officials have remained in place. Even the tenure of the senior most civil servant, the cabinet secretary, was extended by six months. In 2004, the tenure of the then cabinet secretary was actually cut short by three months. This gives civil servants a feeling that the political executive is fair, that there is no trace of vindictiveness, that the emphasis is on work and performance rather than what position they held in a government run by a different political formation. At the same time, too much comfort is not good and, somewhere down the line, in the next few months, there must be ruthless pruning of non-performers.

The budget, too, gives a comforting feeling of stability and continuity, but at the same time, points to the winds of change. Obviously, there is no intention to rock the boat or indulge in histrionics of any kind.

Too much is being made of the government decision to change the personal staff of former ministers. I have told several curious media persons that this decision is minor, with no impact whatsoever on the quality of administration. Even in the past, it was recognised that long tenures on the personal staff of ministers are not desirable. Hence, a five-year cap was imposed and rigidly enforced, even though a minister or two successfully circumvented this decision. One minister, for example, could not get the officer of his choice as private secretary, but smuggled him in as economic advisor. Another circumvented the rule that private secretaries cannot be above the level of deputy secretary by bringing in his favoured officer as joint secretary in the ministry and then using him in his …continued »

Do you like this story