Wednesday, December 20, 2006

ALTHOUGH IN THE midst of a military coup, the military junta in Fiji has set an interesting precedent by advertising cabinet posts in the press and inviting applications. The qualifications — moral, economic and professional — have been laid down and once the applications are received, they will be screened by a screening committee and after an interview, the cabinet will be appointed. This is the military regime’s way of trying to ensure that the government they provide to the Fijians is free from the taint of corruption as well as the taint of having overthrown a democratically elected legitimate government. “Applicants must be of outstanding character and without any criminal records,” the ad says. “Each must not have been declared bankrupt,” it warns, adding applications must be submitted to military headquarters by Tuesday.

In the United States system, the process of senate confirmation ensures some checks and balances in the process by which key administrative appointments are filled, and the processing can be grueling on the extreme. It is not unknown for the media to reach deep into a candidate’s past to dig out unsavory details that could disqualify one from holding a post. The scrutiny is very intense, probing political, professional and personal suitability. The confirmation process is so tough that usually any administration would do its own background checks to ensure that there are no embarrassments in the offing. Even so, there are no guarantees as the episode of John Bolton, the Bush administration’s ambassador to the United Nations, reveals. The hapless Bolton, after serving as a lame duck ambassador for more than a year, had to resign when he found that his extremely right wing views were unlikely to be endorsed by the new Democratic-controlled Congress.

India, struggling with the issue of the tainted ministers issue for a long time now, needs to adopt some such system instead of constant bickering and walkouts of Parliament, which disrupt business but keep the corrupt ministers where they are. The recent Supreme Court judgment allowing ministers and public servants to be persecuted without the government’s sanction in cases of possible corruption may help in dealing with corruption; it won’t help deal with the issues of merit.

To get a petty clerk’s job in the government, one has to appear for examinations and interviews. And, of course, the civil servants are recruited after passing the state civil service or the UPSC exam and grueling interviews. But their political masters, the actual CEOs of the states or the even the Union Cabinet have only to get votes and win elections event though popularity is no indicator of efficiency. For instance, the TRS leader, K Chandra Sekhar Rao, recently won by a convincing margin, the Karimnagar Lok Sabha by-election demonstrating his clout over the Telengana movement. Which is fine. But unfortunately, the same worthy was also the Minister for Labour in the Union cabinet for more than a year and hardly attended office. He was more occupied consolidating his base in the Telengana area for his future political ambitions.

Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while talking to civil servants, had the following questions to ask: “The civil service has to reorient itself and be trained to deliver better services to the people. To make the government more efficient, we need a new public service orientation, in the thinking of civil servants. You cannot view yourself as mere administrators. You are also managers. You have to manage change and manage efficient delivery of public services. This new orientation must begin at the very beginning. The questions that require addressing are:
Are the civil services adequately equipped to address these emerging challenges?
If not, what must we do to address these challenges?

Is the present method of recruitment appropriate for inducting the right kind of persons in to government? manmohan so

Are the performance-assessment and appraisal methods appropriate for preparing the civil services for the emerging demands on them and the government?
Should not the same questions be asked of their political masters? Maybe, the Fijian junta is playing out the theatre of the absurd by advertising out cabinet posts in the local newspapers. But the absurd is the only possible answer in our own constrained circumstances!

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