It is widely recognized that governance in India today faces a serious crisis of accountability. The very fact that despite significant economic growth, and substantial increases in social sector expenditures, India continues to perform far worse than countries much poorer than her on key development parameters is an indicator of just how deep the problem of accountability is. Accountability failures have meant that absenteeism, incompetence, inefficiency and corruption characterize every core service that the state is obliged to deliver to its citizens.
This discussion note examines the crisis of accountability in the context of the Indian civil services. It argues for the importance of creating mechanisms for direct accountability of the icivil services to citizens and attempts a preliminary articulation of mechanisms and instruments by which this accountability can be achieved. The accountability of civil servants both to ministers and to the Parliament, are constitutional and politically significant. The personal accountability of civil servants and their responsibility towards the society are equally substantial and they are interconnected. In particular their accountability of the actions and the responsibility towards it are prompted by the following progress.
• The increasing complexity of government structure and functions
• Ministerial-civil servant responsibility
Civil Servant’s Accountability :
The civil servants have always played a pivotal role in ensuring continuity and change in administration. However, they are dictated by the rules and procedures which are formulated taking their advice into account. It is the ‘rule of law’ rather than the ‘rule of man’ that is often blamed for widespread abuse of power and corruption among government officials The explosion of media in the recent past has opened civil servants to external scrutiny and called for transparent accountability mechanisms in terms of outcomes and results not processes. The issues of accountability of civil servants in service delivery have come to the forefront in all dialogues regarding civil service reforms. The credibility of civil service lies in the conspicuou improvement of tangible services to the people, especially at the cutting edge. Conceptually, the civil servants are accountable to the Minister in charge of the department, but in practice, the accountability is vague and of a generalized nature. Since there is no system of ex ante specification of accountability, the relationship between the Minister and the civil servants is only issue-sensitive. The civil servants deal with the Minister as the issues present themselves. The accountability relationship can be anything from all-pervasive to minimalistic and it is left to the incumbent Minister to interpret it in a manner that is most convenient to him. It is true that the legislatures in India are armed with control mechanisms such as questions, adjournment motions,
no confidence motions, calling attention notices, half an hour discussions and control through legislative committees. However the legislatures in India have failed in demanding and enforcing any meaningful accountability from the civil service. The control mechanisms of the legislatures have at least succeeded only in reviewing how much money has been spent and how much more is going to be spent. The reasons why the legislatures in India are not in a position to enforce accountability from the civil service is because their review is ex post. Talking about the financial committee of the Parliament N. N. Mallay says, broadly speaking the scrutiny exercised by the Financial Committee are ex post facto one – a post performance review of administration. They examine not what the administration of the government propose to do but what they have done how well or ill it has been done and with what results. They aim at correction and prevention or recurrence of working or incorrect administrative action. They look to the future by looking into the past. (1972). In New Zealand, the legislature has succeeded in enforcing accountability from the civil service only because of ex ante specification of performance expectations through the system of outputs. The Parliament in New Zealand resorts to an appropriation process that votes resources for the purchase of outputs. The resources so voted follow the costing provided by the civil servants and are in terms of the outputs as agreed upon in the annual performance agreements. With outputs specified ex ante and resources
Civil servants accountability to the Government
The primary responsibility of the civil service to the people and the society is to serve the government it has elected. This means that civil servants must provide the same standard of free, frank, impartial, and responsive advice, and the same level of professionalism in administration and delivery of services, policies, and programmes, irrespective of the political party in power.
However, at the same time, civil service should be apolitical, performing its functions in an impartial and professional manner. There are also the broader accountability obligations of the civil service which means that the civil service should be openly accountable for all its actions, within the framework of ministerial responsibility, to the government and to the legislature.
The governmental system in India provides a model of accountability in which public interest is very clearly articulated.
It is the government and the ministers who determine the public Interest in terms of policies and programme priorities, and civil servants, within the requirement of the constitutional and legal framework, advise on and implement their decisions. Therefore, the civil service has a particular responsibility for the public interest in upholding the law and ensuring that proper procedures arc followed. As far as the political system is concerned, the civil service needs to see itself as a career based service to enhance the effectiveness and cohesion of India’s democratic system of government.
Civil servants also need to be responsive to the needs of the public, treating its members with courtesy and with sensitivity to their rights and aspirations. This means that civil servants should be professional and effective in the delivery of services. Responsiveness also means that while a civil servant cannot make exceptions in individual cases where these are not sanctioned by law, and while the civil servant must ensure equality of access for all citizens, he/she should try to be responsive as he/she administers entitlements or provide services and to avoid unnecessary rigidity. This would also require a civil service that is sensitive to the diversity of the Indian public and in particular, to the needs and requirements of the weaker sections of the society. On the whole, civil servants should deliver services fairly, effectively, impartially, and courteously to die members of the public. Civil servants responsibility towards the people and the society
The civil service has a close relationship with the society through the variety of services it provides. This means that the maintenance of ethical behaviour by civil servants in dealing with the public is particularly important.
civil service needs to serve the society by ensuring that the entitlements and services provided to it under law and government policy are delivered effectively, fairly, courteously, and professionally Civil servants also need to be responsive to the needs of the public, treating its members with courtesy and with sensitivity to their rights and aspirations. This means that civil servants should be professional and effective in the delivery of services.
Responsiveness also means that while a civil servant cannot make exceptions in individual cases where these are not sanctioned by law, and while the civil servant must ensure equality of access for all citizens, he/she should try to be responsive as he/she administers entitlements or provide services and to avoid unnecessary rigidity.
This would also require a civil service that is sensitive to the diversity of the Indian public and in particular, to the needs and requirements of the weaker sections of the society. On the whole, civil servants should deliver services fairly, effectively, impartially, and courteously to die members of the pubic
Advisory Role of Civil Servants in Policy
Making :Rendering policy advice to the political executive is the most important staff function of the civil servant. Policy making is the ultimate responsibility of the Minister. After a policy is approved by the elected government it is duty of the civil servant to implement such policy in the right earnest whether he/she agrees with it or not. At the same time it is the duty of the civil servant to provide the factual basis, thorough analysis of all possible implications of any measure under consideration and free and frank advice without fear or favour at the stage of policy formulation. It is unfortunate that at times senior civil servants get bogged down in routine administrative decision making and are unable to contribute adequately to this crucial aspect of their functions.
However for civil servants to be able to provide appropriate policy inputs they must acquire the necessary combination of a broad perspective of the sector as well as of the Government as a whole combined with conceptual clarity and requisite knowledge. If a policy that is being formulated is perceived by the civil servant to be against public interest his/her responsibility is to convince the political executive about the adverse implications of such a policy. However, if the political executive does not agree with such an advice there is little chance that the civil servant can do other than putting his/her views clearly on record. for the other institutional mechanisms such as Parliament, the CAG, Judiciary and ultimately the electorate to hold the political executive to account for bad policy.
Governance is admittedly the weak link in our quest for prosperity and equity. Elimination of corruption is not only a moral imperative but an economic necessity for a nation aspiring to catch up with the rest of the world. Improved governance in the form of non-expropriation contract, enforcement and decrease in bureaucratic delays and corruption can raise the GDP growth rate significantly. There is a perception that the public services have remained largely exempt from the imposition of penalties due to the complicated procedures that have arisen out of the Constitutional guarantee against arbitrary and vindictive action. Those Constitutional safeguards have in practice shielded the guilty against the swift and certain punishment for abuse of public office for private gain.
A major corollary has been the erosion of accountability. The huge body of jurisprudential precedents has crowded out the real intent of Article 311 and created a heap of roadblocks in reducing corruption. Such a provision is not available in any of the democratic countries including the U K. While the honest have to be protected the dishonest seem to corner the full benefit of Article 311. Hence there is need for a comprehensive examination of the entire corpus of administrative jurisprudence to rationalize and simplify the procedures. One of the indicators of tax enforcement is delay in sanctioning prosecution of a delinquent by the competent authority. Reference may be made to the Annual Report of the Central Vigilance Commission for the year 2004. Out of 153 cases for sanction 21 cases were pending for more than 3 years 26 cases between 2-3 years, 25 between 1-2 years. The departmental enquiries are soft-pedalled either out of patronage or misplaced compassion.
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