Monday, December 6, 2010

The know-it-alls

One thing more than any other which has led to inefficiency in our admistrative set up is the know-it-all attitude of bureaucrats.

Some of us have studied science or engineering, others are from the humanities schools, a few are doctors, still others management graduates. None of these disciplines is really germane to the jobs we later perform. The academic rigour that is a pre- requisite for many of these degrees definitely helps hone the skills of analysis and problem solving that a civil servant is required to extensively use, but just as an MBBS cannot be expected to run a corporation without becoming familiar with the nuts and bolts of the business, a civil servant should not step into office without first undertaking a tremendous amount of learning, given the wide -sweeping impact of the jobs he performs.

We do undergo a year or two of training, most part of which is spent in making friends, having a good time, and perhaps finding the perfect match. Then we get our first postings, and would you believe it, we know it all! How is a district to be run? How are law and order to be maintained? How are taxes to be collected and tax evasion prevented? We know it all! 

We do not even take the trouble of making ourselves well and truly conversant with the laws, rather complex and arcane at times,  that we  administer. On the rare occasion that we do, in the first flush of enthusiasm right after beginning hands-on work, we are loath to continuously learn, to keep pace with developments, with international best practices etc. So if I have learned a little of the Customs Act, I will strongly resist having to acquaint myself with the legal provisions regarding Service Tax.I will be reluctant to familiarise myself what my counterparts in the rest of the world are doing, to attend seminars and workshops (unless these are in a European location or the USA !), to question, to improve. 

Having begun our careers on that note, is it any surprise that we grow more and insular as the years go by?

What trade and industry have to say become anathema to us. No matter how complex the manufacturing or business process or business model  , we sit in our offices, supremely confident that we know it all, without ever asking the specialists to explain, without asking them questions, without actually reading the relevant material. In our conduct towards those we had pledged to serve, we are rather condescending, refusing to hear them, to learn from them.At no cost will we admit that we do not know, that there exist solutions other and perhaps better than the ones we have. Decisions on the most difficult and complex issues are taken without the technicalities being fully comprehended and properly appreciated. On the rare occasion that the stake holders are invited to make presentations etc, our insistence is on getting it acknowledged that we are busy people, with hectic schedules, and that the presentation has to be brief, to the point etc, while retaining the prerogative of regaling the captive audience with long-drawn anecdotes that establish our great administrative acumen, foresight etc etc!

So poor decisions are taken, there are difficulties in implementation, time and cost over runs. Sometimes, projects are abandoned half way through. There are occasions when the intended beneficiaries actually become worse off than before. Are the decision - makers then held accountable, as they would be in the corporate sector? Of course not. Those who have to fix responsibility for delays, losses etc are kin, after all, and extremely sympathetic. The loss is of the tax payer, and the national exchequer should be well able to withstand such losses, enriched as it is by the blood and sweat of the country's bureaucrats.

And so the vicious cycle continues!!!


  1. Absolutely agree. Loved the post!

  2. You have brought a very vital point... So, what is the way out?

  3. This is brilliant! But how do you propose to fix this? Bureaucratic Inertia has plagued the working of an entire system, which isn't any less corrupt. The IAS in India has this whole aristocratic touch to it and that's where I feel is the problem! 2 cars, 2 drivers, 2 cooks, free telephone bills, 3 servants and entry to all restricted areas and stuff is what gets to the heads of these officers. I believe there should be a check on what privileges the IAS use and bring them down to ground level reality. Just last night at 11:30 I saw a white Tata Indigo entering a pub with it's red light on. That's misuse. That's corruption.

    Hope we can change this country. The writeup is brilliant!

  4. the colonial baggage is still with us!!

  5. Excellently narrated. This tell-tale is rampantly visible throughout the Administrative Machinery in our country. I wish, if all Civil Servants made introspection and put sincere efforts in the development of our nation selflessly!