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Governance performance

People have a lot of hopes tied to the newly-elected government in the aftermath of a failed government. Quite a backlog is there to be handled. The new government would be advised to introduce some performance management system to be able to plan, monitor and evaluate its activities and governance. Five-year plans have become outdated and no more popular. In the past two or more decades, governments in most part of the world tried to reduce the size of the government and somewhat managed to achieve those objectives. The idea was that once government reduces its scope and clutches on the populace, governance would improve automatically.

From the beginning of this century, the impetus has shifted to improving the quality of governance directly through improved versions of performance management systems in government ministries and departments. Quite some innovations have been introduced in Britain, New Zealand, Malaysia and India among others. There is nothing new or phenomenal about it. Throughout Europe governments make annual work plans. Annual budget could be taken as a proxy for Annual Work Plan. But there are a lot of policy planning activities that may have very negligible and immediate budgetary dimensions. Thus annual budgets and its implementation is a poor indicator of governance performance. In business, annual targeting and planning is usual and routine. These countries have, however, given more visibility and formalism to the performance monitoring and evaluation systems. In this article, we would attempt to describe the steps taken by India in this respect.

Had it been the yesteryears, one would have frowned upon a slow-growth India and its archaic governance although democratic system. No more. India is a fast growing and successful country. It has not happened through direct divine intervention. Policy innovation and, governance certainly played its role. Therefore our governments would do themselves a favour, if they examine the changes in various aspects of governance systems that have been brought about in our larger neighbouring country.

If one goes to the website of Cabinet/Establishment division of Pakistan, mendacity writs large on it. There is a list of ministers and state ministers, rules on Presidential Awards, vehicle tenders and the like of inconsequential things. And if one visits the website of the Cabinet division of India, one is struck with remarkable activities reflecting innovation in governmental processes. Attempts for improvements are obviously reflected there. The buzz words are; performance management system, Result Framework Documents (RFD), Citizen’s Charter, Grievance Handling Systems, openness and Freedom of Information etc.

Let me briefly describe what these are. Let us take RFD first. I am reproducing the following intro from a RFD document of the Cabinet division of India;

“PMES (RFD) takes a comprehensive view of departmental performance by measuring performance of all schemes and projects and all relevant aspects of expected departmental deliverables such as: financial, physical, quantitative, qualitative, static efficiency (short-run) and dynamic efficiency (long-run). As a result of this comprehensive evaluation of all aspects relevant to citizen’s welfare, this system provides a unified and single view of departmental performance. By focusing on areas that are within the control of the department, PMES also ensures fairness and high levels of motivation.

The working of the PMES can be divided into the following three distinct periods during the fiscal year:

A. Beginning of the year (by April 1): Design of Results Framework Document

B. During the Year (after six months – October 1): Monitor progress against agreed targets

C. End of the year (March 31): Evaluate performance against agreed targets. At the beginning of each financial year, with the approval of the Minister concerned, each department prepares a Results Framework Document (RFD) consisting of the priorities set out by the Minister concerned, agenda as spelt out in the party manifesto if any, President’s Address, announcements/agenda as spelt out by the Government from time to time. The Minister in-charge decides the inter-se priority among the departmental objectives. To achieve results commensurate with the priorities listed in the Results Framework document, the minister incharge approves the proposed activities and schemes for the ministry/department. The minister incharge also approves the corresponding success indicators – Key Result Areas (KRAs) or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) – and time bound targets to measure progress in achieving these objectives.

After six months, the Results Framework Documents (RFD) as well as the achievements of each Ministry/Department against the performance goals laid down, may have to be reviewed and the goals reset, taking into account the priorities at that point of time. This enables Government to factor in unforeseen circumstances such as drought conditions, natural calamities or epidemics. Evaluation of performance against agreed targets; at the end of the year, “the achievements of the government department are reviewed, compare them with the targets, and determine the composite score.”

This may appear to skeptics to be a lot of simple paper churning, resulting in unnecessary cutting of trees. True, it is not a panacea. But there has to be some performance planning and monitoring system with some structure and objectivity. Ad hoc assignment of duties, attending meetings and preparing summaries and travelling abroad on conferences, it is all part of the job, but without a formal plan and statement of priorities, it may not be very efficient and results oriented. A formal system like RFD lets India disseminate information to stakeholders and binds the organisation to a set of objectives for a period, say, one year. The obvious risk is that one may become a victim of the tool and the process or conversely, some useless or out of favour officials may be assigned the task of maintaining the RFD paper system. It is the most responsible and active officers who have to be the part of the process and committed to it, mechanics may be left to the lesser ones or a computer system introduced to lighten the nitty-gritty. And most of all, the Minister has to be committed, for it is designed to get work out of the bureaucracy and executives under him.

And now, let us visit the Clients and Citizen’s Charter (CCC). Let me again reproduce from a document as to the concept of CCC.

“The Citizen’s/Client’s Charter is a written declaration by a Government department that highlights the standards of service delivery that it subscribes to, availability of choice for consumers, avenues for grievance redress and other related information. In other words, it is a set of commitments made by a department regarding the standards of service which it delivers. Though not enforceable in a court of law, the Citizen’s/Client Charter is intended to empower citizens and clients so that they can demand committed standards of service and avail remedies in case of non-compliance by service provider organisations. The basic thrust of the Citizen’s/Client’s Charter is to render public services citizen centric by making them demand driven rather than supply driven. Central ministries/departments are expected to design a Client’s Charter instead of a Citizen’s Charter in case they are not dealing with the public directly.”

For practical purposes, there are two main parts of the CCC; 1) Service standards; and 2) Grievance handling system. On the ministry, department or organisations website, necessary forms and procedures are outlined. And more importantly, processing times (days, weeks etc) for most activities related to public or clients are also mentioned. The second part, grievance handling brings about a structured approach and system in this respect. There is provision for both online computer complaints and paper/manual ones. A third-party audit is required to evaluate the functioning of the grievance handling system. The third party audit requirements put real teeth into the system, otherwise some kind of complaint procedures are always found, here and there. Again due to a structure and a formal process, it does not depend on the whims, choice or style of the officials.

What has been done to the Freedom of Information Act in Pakistan is known to everybody. Its status of implementation is negligible and there is hardly any impact. Very few organisations have incorporated the requisite requirements of the Act? Result is obvious, as we observe and experience the situation in our country. Let me be specific. PPP has demanded that full data be disclosed and published on websites on the payments made to IPPs (Rs 320 billion). They are openly indicating hanky-panky. They themselves know it very well that all is not well in the payments to IPPs. There has been secrecy about the actual payments made to IPPs. PPP may have benefited from it and suspects that their successors may do the same. They want to close doors for their arch-rivals. Whether, there is hanky panky or not, there should be openness in financial transactions. Most public sector organisations in India have started declaring statements on even ordinary payments on their websites (please visit the website of Coal India). Publish what you pay is becoming a popular demand in most advancing countries around the world. Audit departments and their long paras are not enough. Pakistan has achieved the distinction of consistently being on the list of most corrupt countries of the world despite very efficient audit departments and Auditor Generals of Pakistan. It may continue to do so despite full implementation of the Freedom of Information. Chances are that the ranking may come down a bit.

There are good signs emerging from the present government pursuing a reform agenda and bringing structure into the decision-making processes, replacing discretion and arbitrariness of the powerful. The risk is that overdoing it may be equally harmful and may tie down the hands of the government. Overall, there has been an overwhelming evidence that monitoring, accountability, openness and competition brings forth more efficiency than the closed systems that are based on personal loyalty.

Akhtar Ali, "Governance performance," Business recorder. 2013-09-04.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political parties , Political system , Political leaders , Political challenges , Government-Pakistan , Awards , Pakistan , RFD , PMES , KPIs , CCC , PPP