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Cong ministers resist rating by babus

delhi Updated: Feb 14, 2010 01:25 IST
Saroj Nagi
Saroj Nagi
Hindustan Times
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At least four Congress ministers — and some others representing the UPA’s allies — are fighting a move that appears to give the bureaucracy an upper hand over political oversight and leadership.

Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni, Road Transport Minister Kamal Nath and Minister of State for Environment Jairam Ramesh are among those questioning the new initiative that allows bureaucrats to evaluate a minister’s performance.

The first-of-its-kind appraisals under the Performance Monitoring and Evaluation System (PMES) are to be done in the first phase for performance of 59 of 84 ministries and departments from January 1 — March 31, 2010. Conventionally, the Prime Minister personally reviews the work of ministers.

As part of the new system, ministers and the secretary in their ministry are called upon to jointly sign the ministry's performance tracking document on time-bound and result-oriented targets, which is known as the Results-Framework Document (RFD)

The PMES, which has Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s backing, is run by the Committee on Government Performance (CGP) comprising of the cabinet secretary, finance secretary, expenditure secretary, secretary (Planning Commission), secretary (Performance Management) and secretary of the ministry/department concerned.

Azad told HT, “I don’t remember whether I have signed it (the RFD) or not. The matter is a few months old.”

“But I would like to make it clear that the very concept of evaluation of the performance of a minister by a bureaucrat is totally ill-conceived. It is the minister who is supposed to evaluate the performance of the bureaucrat and not the
other way round,” Azad said.

He added: “I strongly feel that as a minister in a democracy I am answerable to the public, the Parliament, the Prime Minister and the Congress president Sonia Gandhi. And I shall have to work to their satisfaction and not to the satisfaction of bureaucrats.’’

Sonia also did not mince her words. “There was an official suggestion that the minister and the secretary sign a
memorandum of understanding (MoU) together. I don’t think it is the right way to go about it since the minister provides the political leadership to the ministry and the secretary and his team implement the programmes defined. The two roles are very well defined.

In my opinion, the Minister is answerable to Parliament, the Prime Minister and the UPA chairperson.’’

Kamal Nath too registered his disapproval by not signing the RFD. “I have not signed any such document….Nor do I know about it,’’ he said. But his brief comment said it all.

Jairam Ramesh, Minister of State for Environment and Forests (independent charge) also has not signed. “I haven’t..,’’ he said, gesturing his dismissal of the move. Like many other ministers who may not have voiced their views openly, he saw a lot of conceptual problems in the evaluation system.

Among allies, NCP chief and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar reportedly is against the move. But he was not available for comment.

With senior ministers, including from the Congress, opposing the modalities of the evaluation, the PM’s ambitious plan has run into run into trouble.

Four senior most ministers — Pranab Mukherjee (finance), A K Antony (defence), P Chidambaram (home) and S M Krishna (external affairs) —have currently been kept out of the PMES.