Make Government Smart

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The state government must revamp administration in the true sense
The Goa government’s five-year plan ‘Vision 2020-2025’ aimed at the revamp of administration will be watched with great interest for its end results by the public. Under the plan, workshops are being conducted for the officials of various departments to make them deliver public services in a responsive and responsible manner. Seventeen workshops have been held so far and twenty-five more are going to be held. People of Goa want their government to be responsive and responsible. People might wonder why it took so long for the leaders of the government to take notice of such an old public longing. They would only hope that ‘Vision 2020-2025’ does not begin and end with workshops. There has been hardly any government in the past that had not promised a revamp of administration. But none of them could actually transform governance truly into public service. A lot of the colonial-era hiatus between the government and the people still remained in the departments. The ministers and the officers continued to be higher than the people. Although we were a democracy, it was not the people but the ministers and officers who made decisions.
Seven years ago the Goa Right of Citizen to Time Bound Delivery of Public Services Act was passed, listing 23 services including residence certificate, caste certificate, domicile certificate, arms licence, mutation and conversion land records and survey plan that had to be delivered in a fixed number of days. The state government needs to enforce this Act with a zeal, as some other states such as Bihar have done. Delay in delivery of services has been an old problem in the government departments. To expect that the delivery would improve in all cases owing to the passing of a law is to expect the crow to sing like a cuckoo. There may be a hundred reasons given by the designated officials for not delivering the public service demanded of them in the time given.
It would be interesting to know from the state government how many designated officials have been punished for not delivering the public service within the time limit. If the state government finds that the Goa Right of Citizen to Time Bound Delivery of Public Services Act, 2013 has not brought about a revolutionary change in the attitude, behaviour and working style of the officials, it needs to take it up in Vision 2020-2025 to truly achieve a revamp of the administration in this respect. The government should set up tribunals to hear complaints of citizens who have been denied time-bound public service under the Act. The tribunals would summon the designated officials to explain why the public service was not delivered to the complainant and judge whether they had any valid grounds to deny the public service within the time limit. If the reasons given by the officials were not valid, the tribunals should award penalties to them.
Another area in which the state government has to work sincerely is recruitment. The state has had no transparent, credible and competitive system of recruitment for employees. The government’s dream of making officials responsive and responsible rests on the quality of the persons occupying the seats in the departments. It is not hidden from anybody that politicians in power have for years misused their offices to get as many persons from their constituencies employed in government departments as possible. This practice is totally against the ethics public servants are expected to follow. The politicians in power have created vote banks for themselves at high public cost. We say ‘high public cost’ because employees who did not get their jobs on the basis of merit get their undeserved salary from the public money; and secondly, the work by them is of poor quality, which means inefficiency, delay and errors. The state government’s revamp of administration under Vision 2020-2025 would not be meaningful unless it fulfills its promise of establishing an autonomous system for recruitment of subordinate employees. As the state government establishes such a system it has to also downsize government by using technology, because the smaller the departments, the smarter they would be. It would be easier to do when new officials are recruited on the basis of merit.