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29 August 2016 K2_CATEGORY IAS Blog

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The article discuss about the need to bring radical reforms in bureaucracy and bring specialists in services.

  • Generalists are more dangerous than specialists and the rising standards of human capital in public policy areas — education, healthcare, public finance, urbanisation — means we must stop equating bureaucrats with technocrats.
  • The most complex decision for any entrepreneur — social or business — is choosing between generalists and specialists. Any effective organisation needs both in balanced manner.
  • India’s current policy problems are very different from the nation-building challenge the country faced after Independence — job creation is an execution problem — and therefore equating bureaucrats with technocrats is wrong.

The reasons are as follows:.

  • Politics is closer to framing policies. The bureaucrat’s job is closer to implementing policies than framing them. But one needs to know a subject well enough to give inputs and also make them as simple as possible.
  • Additionally, our binding constraint has shifted from the sins of commission (what the government does wrong) to the sins of omission (what the government does not do).
  • This means outcomes need building coalitions, creating specialised knowledge, less hierarchy, more collaboration, domain networks and flatter professional structures.
  • Civil servants are often better-educated and more articulate than ministers; so they are able to talk about any area. But familiarity is different from mastery. Mastery requires time.
  • Better policy outcomes need specialist rather than the generalists.
  • India’s private sector has substantially raised its stakes in human capital, technology and innovation since 1991. Of course, comparing private sector execution to government performance is unfair because private sector goals are finite unlike the multiple and often contradictory goals of the government.
  • But the capacity of the state does lag in certain respects and fixing it needs a different approach rather more laws and rules.
  • A country needs a mix blend of powerful government with authority to do things and flexible markets with more reach.
  • Civil service reform is not a demand for a smaller state; it is needed to improve state capacity and effectiveness.
  • Of course, technocratic intervention alone is not enough to fix the government’s deficits. This is not a case for eliminating the generalist civil service but radically reforming it.

The reforms which needed are:

  • Ending the monopoly and 25 per cent of top bureaucratic positions should be lateral entries.
  • Introducing specialisation, generalist civil servants must specialise after 10 years of field experience and have longer tenures.
  • Weeding out people, replicating the colonel threshold of the army for early retirement if not shortlisted for promotion.
  • Sharper performance management, it is mathematically impossible for 95 per cent to be outstanding. The across-the-board pay increases are unfair.
  • Ending ageism, we need to give top jobs to people when they are 45 rather than 58 years old.
  • Giving the top roles to functional services, for example, adopting the police commissioner system nationally.
  • De-layering, eliminating additional and special secretaries.
  • Rationalising, cutting the number of Central ministries to 25.
  • India and China are on opposite sides of this great divide. China’s geographic core has been governed, almost non-stop, by a rationalist bureaucracy since the late sixth century.
  • But China is banging against the limits of what Daniel Bell admiringly describes as a “political meritocracy” in The China Model.
  • The Chinese state’s sole focus on improving material conditions by “filling their stomachs and emptying their minds” is running out of steam as an increasingly affluent middle class recognises that they don’t live in an economy but a society and need more generalists (elected politicians and impartial judges).
  • India, in contrast, has enough politicians but needs technocrats.

Question:

India stands at a “great divide”: Generalists are more dangerous than specialists and the rising standards of human capital in public policy areas — education, healthcare, public finance, urbanisation — means we must stop equating bureaucrats with technocrats. Examine.

Suggested Approach:

  • Need to bring specialists.
  • Reforms needed in civil services.

Link: http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/day-of-the-specialist-india-china-great-divide-economy-3000980/

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