By TP Saran
“It requires no les than the Prime Minister himself to push for the desired change in the way we run things down here. Otherwise there is not a flipping chance of matters getting better in the time line that they need to so that we catch up with e.g. Singapore. We will remain dreamers – dreams that will remain illusions even if they are articulated, instead of materializing…”
During an official function the Prime Minister has said, in relation to the water situation, that we have not been planning properly. We cannot but agree with him fully.
In fact, we have been saying it regularly, even before the statement of the Prime Minister. Several senior economists and analysts have observed that accounting and financial roles and planning functions appear to have been conflated at the Ministry of Finance after dismantling the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development. The merger at the Ministry of Finance, as was pointed out in an article in this paper by V. Bhardwaj, mixed up strategic planning and policy formulation, evaluation and analysis with the operational aspects of deliverables.
That may explain partly why we had to await the visit of the Prime Minister to Singapore for experts from that country to come and advise us about our water problem. Who has been responsible for our utilities all these years and why has Singaporean assistance not been sought before?
Indeed, had there been proper planning, as the PM himself has advanced, a few years ago, maybe we could have already solved the problem ourselves. While, therefore, we appreciate the prime ministerial stand, at the same time we hope that since he has himself identified the gap, he will take up the matter at his level and address it with the usual seriousness so that no future Prime Minister need to make a similar observation as his.
On our part, we continue to maintain that we must set up an independent, statutory planning/development body if it is not intended to restore the former ministry. Like the MID, it should report directly to the Prime Minister, and be given all the means to function at the highest level of excellence. There are more than enough qualified and competent people in this country to staff and run such an institution, but of course nothing prevents us from headhunting internationally if the need is felt.
Further, we must here be careful in making a distinction between reporting to the PMO and being under the PMO: the latter could be perceived, rightly or wrongly, to be prone to inappropriate influence. For this reason it is necessary to have the required body functioning autonomously but reporting to the PMO only so as to fast-track and facilitate execution. In a properly functioning and mature democracy, this situation may not have been necessary – but we still have some way to go before we reach there, unfortunately.
It is a fact that in most ministries the higher officials are so bogged down with operational matters that they hardly have any time left to do policy formulation and strategic planning. Combine this with this nasty tendency to foist foreign advisers on them at short notice and without proper planning and you have the inevitable knee-jerk pattern of working that results and becomes a permanently temporary feature.
Several experts are only too happy to travel to Mauritius, well known tourist destination, having inadequate knowledge of the local context and realities. Add to this that they cannot possibly fathom the other undercurrents and undertones that mar the good functioning of the country, through manipulations and interferences of all kinds, from the political to the private interest lobbies and you will understand that often expert advice is at variance with what is genuinely feasible with our limitations of resources.
The Prime Minister additionally shows his familiarity with cliché management jargon when he says that he does not want people to come to him with problems, he only wants to hear about solutions. Fair enough, and to be impatient to get things done may also qualify as desirable characteristic of a leader.
However, in the same jargon it is also postulated that identifying a problem is 50% of the solution, so here we would make an appeal to the Prime Minister to also take some patience and listen to genuine problems that are faced, especially when it comes to implementation of projects. They concern not only availability of funds but also important issues such as procurement procedures and availability of adequate numbers and quality of human resource.
There are constraints in the models that we have been adhering to for so many years, and it is only if thinking out of the box is accepted and attention paid to its outputs that things will have a chance to turn around as this depends on untying a number of knots in the process-procedure chain. This can only happen with a change of mindset driven from the apex leadership which effectively means, in this country, the Prime Minister since decision making is so centralized.
It therefore requires no les than the Prime Minister himself to push for the desired change in the way we run things down here. Otherwise there is not a flipping chance of matters getting better in the time line that they need to so that we catch up with e.g. Singapore. We will remain dreamers – dreams that will remain illusions even if they are articulated, instead of materializing.
* * *
A New Children’s Ombudsman
Eight years, and the crimes against children have surged instead of children getting a better deal. We pray that things will be different with the new Ombudsman, to start with perhaps a less abrasive style.
* Published in print edition on 16 December 2011
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