Reasons behind inefficient long drawn processes in the government service
A blog post citing specific examples on the prevailing regressive procedures and systems in the state institutes and the inability to think exhibited by the public officers was published recently in my blog. One important response received for the post was that without just stating the poor status we are saddled with, it is necessary to explore why it is so. Any one who expect the situation to improve cannot ignore this response. This post intends to present the reasons behind such backward systems and backward thinking.
One reason that things don’t change is the monopoly status enjoyed by these organizations. Public cannot get the service at all or without incurring a huge cost from any other place and as a result they have to come again and again in spite of the poor service.
Second reason is that unlike private sector which is driven by profit, state sector has no special drive to be better.
Third reason is that not only there are no incentives for individuals to initiate change even those officers who are willing are purposely discouraged by others in the system. Such initiatives are considered unnecessary hassle by a large majority. Hence those who try also withdraw after some time.
Fourth reason is that some of the unwanted restrictions could be ignored for those who are known; relatives / friends, which allow the staff to enjoy a privilege and the opportunity to exhibit power.
Fifth is that it creates a space to obtain bribes from others, because of the same reason cited above.
Sixth is that they could maintain an authoritarian status. The same status that was enjoyed by the managers of cooperatives during 1970-77 period, during which public had to purchase most of the essentials from cooperatives. Large segment of the public service enjoys this status.
Seventh is that there is an attitude in the government service that consolidates this, which is founded on perfectionism. In that there is no room for risk or uncertainty. You cannot be satisfied by getting 9,999 times right in a 10,000 times task; the odd one need to be prevented. Result is imposing numerous restrictions and prohibitions, to prevent that one at a cost to the people who do the 9,999 transactions. However, it is not very sure is this a reason or an excuse given.
Eighth is that as a part of the same attitude those who frame rules and regulations consider that the public who seeks the services and the officers who gives the services are rogues. The unfortunate thing is that without catching and punishing the few rogues all are considered and ill-treated as rogues. There could be a rational behind such action as actual rogues are powerful and well-connected to centers of power, they get away easily without being charged. Some law enforcing agencies are at times responsible for acquitting such rogues. However, without searching a solution to this it is useless and unjustifiable to punish the innocent by imposing numerous restrictions. That action is similar to what Nasrudin did when he lost the key in a dark place but instead opt to search it where there was light.
Ninth is that the investigating officers and auditors have been trained with the same attitudes in the seventh and eighth reasons mentioned above. For the same reason these attitudes have been rooted in the organizations and cannot easily be done away with.
Tenth is that the public who seeks the services do not have any incentive to intervene to change the situation, being powerless. They also fear that by such intervention they will lose the opportunity to get even the poor service that is extended with so many restrictions and delays.
All these indicate that it is not easy to get rid of these backward systems and practices. It requires a massive intervention by the society and for that a social discourse is required.
What comes first? What drives the other? Is it a chicken and egg situation (cyclic or rather dynamic relationship) or is there a direction?
This was one of the topics I debated with a colleague of mine, long time back, when I was at Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration (Sri Lanka’s equivalent to public service colleges find in rest of the world).
I took the position that mission should come first. It is your calling. It provides you the meaning of life. Vision should be the destination when one travels in that path.
I now think, this may not be true with everyone. Some people will have a passionate dream (vision). They could pursue different paths in achieving and there should be room to change the course (path).
The people in the first category are people who are value driven and those in the second category are passion driven. In Sigmund Freud’s terminology, first category has strong Super-ego while in the second category strong Id.
Don’t misunderstand my position, not that I am trying to label people and put them in to black and white compartments. People who are driven by values will also have passions, but what I want to emphasize is that they are primarily driven by values and secondarily by passion; at least their passions are defined more or less by values, than vice-versa. The others who are driven by dreams will also have values, in attaining dreams they will try to be within a set of values, but primarily they are driven by dreams.
On my part, looking back at my life, I have been driven by values and probably that would be the reason, why I would have thought the mission should come first.
As part of the coursework for the MBA, we were asked to write our personal vision and mission statements. I remember writing my mission as to influence individuals and institutes to become more capable/versatile and equipped them to grow in the ever-changing world. My vision was to become a very much sort after lecturer by major training institutes of the country. So right after the MBA, I pursued these mission and vision, and ended up with varying degree of success.
I brought up this to make a point; that my vision has been molded through the lenses of my mission and not vice-versa. Different people therefore view vision-mission dichotomy differently.
This would be bit simple when it is applied to individuals; but what about the institutions and organizations.
Here again I thought, the answer is pretty easy for non-profits. They have been established to realize a particular mission. But what about commercial enterprises. This is tricky. I can only assume that it might depend on the character of the owners.