A successful civil service is one that has the courage to abandon failed models of ‘good governance’ and is not shy of taking politically uncomfortable measures in the interests of public good. It is not scared of innovations and is committed to devising novel ways and means to ensure development.
While it is necessary to give extraordinary latitude to the civil services, one cannot ignore the agencies that are responsible for overseeing and examining the policies and actions of civil servants. It is also expected that such an appraisal shall not lose sight of what is perceived as acceptable.
The agencies that keep a watch over the actions and conduct of a government, including the civil services, are the first responders to any crisis. They must be respected for countering and resolving undesirable consequences. We seldom acknowledge the services for their valuable advice, aimed at improving governance.
However, restraint and respect for each other’s commitment is important; we must avoid reading between the lines into each other’s acts and jumping to conclusions. Serving the people is the mandate of every government, and it is expected besides many other responsibilities to act as agents of change.
No one disagrees with the need for scrutiny in our decision-making and delivery mechanisms, lest we digress from our goals. However, we cannot forget that the government and civil services are accountable to the people. We should open ourselves to scrutiny by neutral and objective experts, so that we can expose the shortcomings to make way for the best practices. This will help to ensure that we strive for what we stand for.
The myriad complexities that need to be addressed while ensuring public welfare is not only a daunting task that calls for careful choices but also a scrutiny of outcomes by experts.
Unfortunately, for the scrutiny of public administration there are no broad spectrum tests that could diagnose and cure all ills. Specifics are of the essence, and so is the knowledge of compulsions and the sensibilities of public service.
Any appraisal devoid of this milieu could at best be a polemic on procedural infirmities. We must not, for the love of our continuity of traditions trust the Northern Star alone for navigation, when better devices to find and secure the right direction are available.
The government and civil services should be open to all scrutiny and appraisal but we must remember that such acts are a means to an end. These should not be for fault-finding and witch-hunting, rather it is about ensuring the best without getting bogged down by needless procedural niceties.
We should support audit and scrutiny, which adds new dimensions and imparts wisdom to maximise gains, rather than pronouncing guilt. It is high time we shed the shackles of our colonial hangover, and realised that scrutiny and appraisal of public affairs is not all about culprits and casualties, and instead ought to be for education, training, advice, counsel, wisdom, the freedom to experiment and for promoting and perpetuating innovation and modern practices and to prevent disasters and tragedy rather than counting the dead.
A good system of checks and balances must not devolve into a blame game, rather, it should foster the courage to dare, dream and succeed.
Rajani Kant Verma is a retired civil servant. The views expressed are personal.