The new prime minister must restore the primacy of the appointments committee of the cabinet.
In 2007, the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) approved a proposal to post an income tax officer as joint secretary in the ministry of shipping. When the officer concerned reported to the secretary of shipping, he was told that the minister was opposed to his appointment and that he could not join. The minister took up the matter with the PMO and got the orders changed. This was unheard of.
This may be an extreme instance of how a particular minister subverted the decision of a cabinet committee, but in the last 15-20 years, all senior appointments in the Central government have taken place almost entirely at the behest of individual ministers, and not on objective consideration by the establishment officer, civil services board (chaired by the cabinet secretary) and the ACC, as was the case until, say, the 1990s. There are numerous instances in which the establishment officer and cabinet secretary advised individual officers to approach the minister concerned and secure his consent before their names could be proposed.
What is the effect of this subversion on the quality of government and the decision-making process? The then telecom minister chose his secretary and we all saw what happened to both. It is no exaggeration to claim that nearly 80 per cent of all officers of the rank of joint secretary and above serving in the Central government today have been handpicked by individual ministers, though under the guise of a “formal” process.
The essence of good governance is the relative independence of senior officers to express their views in the files without fear or favour. If the officer is handpicked by the minister concerned and not selected and appointed on objective consideration, he would, at best, not express his contrarian views and merely pass the buck or, at worst, consult the minister before recording his comments. In many cases, this is precisely what is happening. This is the biggest cause of what is popularly called policy paralysis.
The only remedy is to restore the primacy of the ACC, which essentially means restoring the primacy of the prime minister. If an officer is appointed to a senior position by the ACC out of a panel of names recommended by a committee of secretaries, such as the civil services board, where the secretary of the ministry concerned is also represented, that officer arrives at the ministry without the baggage of obligation or loyalty to the minister. This is how appointments were usually made before the coalition era. In 10 years of the UPA and even during the preceding decade, coalition partners and ministers belonging to the dominant party quickly learnt from their colleagues continued…