The Concept of Citizen Centric Administration

GOOD GOVERNANCE AND CITIZEN CENTRIC ADMINISTRATION

The concept of good governance is not new. Kautilya in his treatise Arthashastra elaborated the traits of the king of a well governed State thus: “in the happiness of his subjects lies his happiness, in their welfare his welfare, whatever pleases himself, he does not consider as good, but whatever pleases his subjects he considers as good”. Mahatma Gandhi had propounded the concept of ‘Su-raj’. Good governance has the following eight attributes which link it to its citizens.
Good governance aims at providing an environment in which all citizens irrespective of class, caste and gender can develop to their full potential. In addition, good governance also aims at providing public services effectively, efficiently and equitably to the citizens. The 4 pillars on which the edifice of good governance rests, in essence are:

  • Ethos (of service to the citizen),
  • Ethics (honesty, integrity and transparency),
  • Equity (treating all citizens alike with empathy for the weaker sections), and
  • Efficiency (speedy and effective delivery of service without harassment and using ICT increasingly).

Citizens are thus at the core of good governance. Therefore, good governance and citizen centric administration are inextricably linked.

PERCEPTIONS ABOUT GOVERNANCE IN INDIA

As stated earlier, public administration in India is generally perceived to be unresponsive, insensitive and corrupt. The Commission during its visits to the States had several occasions to meet and hear from the public and most of the observations by citizens were about the poor quality of services provided by the Government, the indifferent attitude of government servants, corruption and abuse of authority and lack of accountability. A common complaint pertained to excessive red-tapism and the long time taken to get even routine work done.

The Fifth Central Pay Commission had the following to say on the public impression about civil servants:
“However, if one speaks to any enlightened member of the public he has several complaints against the public services. These relate to their size, productivity, accountability, transparency and integrity.
There is a general impression that the absolute size of the bureaucracy is overgrown beyond what is fundamentally necessary. It is often referred to as being “bloated”. It is also felt that the numbers are increasing at a rapid pace, with scant regard for the work-load. People also speak of the bureaucracy being top-heavy. Not only are public servants perceived to be too many in number it is also believed that they do not contribute to the gross domestic product. Public servants are alleged to invariably come late to office, spend a large part of the day in sipping tea, smoking and indulging in gossip, and leave office early. Consequently, productivity is said to be abysmally low, estimates of their actual working hours ranging from one to two-and-a-half hours in a day. It is felt that bureaucrats are a law into themselves. They hide behind mountains of paper, maintain uncalled – for secrecy in their dealings with public issues, take surreptitious decisions for considerations that are not always spelt out on paper, and are accountable to no one. They have life-time contracts of service which cannot be cut short on any ground, defended as they are by the safeguards under Article 311 of the Constitution. Their misdeeds are never found out. If exposed, they take refuge behind the protective wall of collective decision making in committees, which cannot be brought to book.
The most serious charge levelled against them is that they lack integrity and honesty. Thus they are alleged to lack not merely in the sense that they accept money or rewards for the decisions they take as public servants in the exercise of their sovereign powers, but also in the larger sense of not maintaining a harmony between their thoughts, words and deeds. Many scams are being uncovered every day and evidence unearthed of public servants not only conniving at corruption but being the beneficiaries of the system themselves.”

BARRIERS TO GOOD GOVERNANCE

The reasons for Governments not being citizen centric can be attributed to the attitude and work of some government servants, the deficiencies in existing institutional structures and also to some citizens. While the laws made by the Legislature may be sound and relevant, very often they are not properly implemented by government functionaries. Institutional structure provided at times may be also weak and ill-conceived and thus has neither the capacity nor the resources to implement the laws in letter and spirit.
The system often suffers from problems of excessive centralization and policies and action plans are far removed from the needs of the citizens. This result in a mismatch between what is required and what is being provided. Inadequate capacity building of personnel who are to implement the laws also results in policies and laws not being implemented properly. Further, lack of awareness about rights and duties and callous approach to compliance to laws on the part of some of the citizens also create barriers to good governance.

CITIZEN’S PARTICIPATION IN ADMINISTRATION

ATTITUDINAL
PROBLEMS OF THE CIVIL SERVANTS
There is a growing concern that the Civil Services and administration in general, have become wooden, inflexible, self-perpetuating and inward looking. Consequently, their attitude is one of indifference and insensitivity to the needs of citizens.
EXTREME NATIONALISMA common reason usually cited for inefficiency in governance is the inability within the system to hold the Civil Services accountable for their actions. Seldom are disciplinary proceedings initiated against delinquent government servants and imposition of penalties is even more rare. This is primarily because at most levels authority is divorced from accountability leading to a system of realistic and plausible alibis. Cumbersome disciplinary procedures have added to the general apathy towards discipline in Government. Moreover the safeguards provided to civil servants, – which were well intentioned – have often been misused. Another reason for lack of accountability is that performance evaluation systems within government have not been effectively structured. – e complacency that the system breeds has resulted in employees adopting an apathetic or lackadaisical attitude towards citizens and their grievances.
RED TAPISMBureaucracies the world over expected to adhere to rules and procedures which are, of course, important for good governance. However, at times, these rules and procedures are ab-initio ill conceived and cumbersome and, therefore, do not serve their purpose. Also, government servants sometimes become overly pre-occupied with rules and procedures and view these as an end in themselves.
LOW LEVELS OF AWARENESS OF THE RIGHTS AND DUTIES OF CITIZENSInadequate awareness about their rights prevents citizens from holding erring government servants to account. Similarly, low levels of compliance of rules by the citizens also acts as an impediment to good governance; when citizens do not adhere to their duties they infringe on the freedom and rights of other citizens. Thus, awareness of rights and adherence to duties are two sides of the same coin. A vigilant citizenry, fully aware of its rights as well its duties, is perhaps the best way to ensure that officials as well as other citizens discharge their duties effectively and honestly.
INEFFECTIVE IMPLEMENTATION OF LAWS AND RULESThere is a large body of laws in the country each legislated with different objectives – maintaining public order and safety, maintaining sanitation and hygiene, protecting rights of citizens, giving special protection to the vulnerable sections etc. Effective implementation of these laws creates an environment which would improve the welfare of all citizens and at the same time, encourage each citizen to contribute his best towards the development of society. On the other hand, weak implementation can cause a great deal of hardship to citizens and even erode the faith of the citizenry in the government machinery.

NECESSARY PRE-CONDITIONS FOR GOOD GOVERNANCE

An analysis of the barriers to good governance reveals that there are several preconditions which must be fulfilled in order to make governance citizen centric. Some of the pre-conditions are:

  • Sound legal framework.
  • Robust institutional mechanism for proper implementation of the laws and their effective functioning.
  • Competent personnel staffing these institutions; and sound personnel management policies.
  • Right policies for decentralization, delegation and accountability. Besides, a number of tools can also be employed to make administration citizen centric. These are:
  • Re-engineering processes to make governance ‘citizen centric’.
  • Adoption of appropriate modern technology.
  • Right to information.
  • Citizens’ charters.
  • Independent evaluation of services.
  • Grievance redressal mechanisms.
  • Active citizens’ participation – public-private partnerships.

CITIZEN’S PARTICIPATION IN ADMINISTRATION

Citizens’ participation in governance embodies a shift in the development paradigm from citizens as the recipients of development to one that views them as active participants in the development process. Equally, it involves a shift from a “top-down” to a “bottom-up” approach to development involving increasing decentralization of power away from the Union Government and closer to grassroots levels, i.e. “Subsidiarity”.

The concept of citizens’ participation in governance is essentially based on the premise that citizens have a legitimate role in influencing decision making processes that affect their lives, their businesses and their communities. In other words, citizens’ participation refers to the mechanism and modalities by which citizens can influence and take control over resources and decision making that directly impacts their lives. At the ideological level, direct citizens’ participation in governance is seen as contributing to a healthy democracy because it enhances and improves upon the traditional form of representative democracy to transform it into more responsive and thus a participative grassroots democracy.

  • It is now widely accepted that active citizens’ participation can contribute to good governance in the following ways:
  • It enables citizens to demand accountability and helps to make government more responsive, efficient and effective.
  • It helps to make government programmes and services more effective and sustainable. • It enables the poor and marginalized to influence public policy and service delivery to improve their lives.
  • It helps to promote healthy, grassroots democracy.

Under this new paradigm, citizens are no longer considered mere beneficiaries of the fruits of technical expertise and knowhow from externally guided development programmes. Instead, they are seen as equal stake holders in the development process. In fact, popular participation as a democratic right that should be promoted in all development projects, has increasingly come to be accepted as an objective and not just as a means to development.
Citizens’ participation in governance is a bilateral engagement wherein it is essential both for government agencies as well as the citizens to be fully involved in order for such participation to lead to improved outcomes such as better service delivery, change in public policy, redressal of grievances etc. The pattern of such participation has been described as a ladder with different types of engagements that represent different degrees or intensity of participation.

  • The bottom rungs of the ladder are: (1) Manipulation and (2) Therapy. These two rungs describe levels of ‘non-participation’ that have been contrived by some to substitute for genuine participation. Their real objective is not to enable people to participate in planning or conducting programmes, but to enable power holders to ‘educate’ or ‘cure’ the participants.
  • Rungs 3 and 4 progress to levels of ‘tokenism’ that allow the have-nets to hear and to have a voice: (3) Informing and (4) Consultation. When they are proffered by power holders as the total extent of participation, citizens may indeed hear and be heard but under these conditions they lack the power to ensure that their views will be heeded by the powerful. When participation is restricted to these levels, there is no follow through, no ‘muscle,’ hence no assurance of changing the status quo.
  • Rung (5) Placation is simply a higher level tokenism because the ground rules allow have-riots to advice but retain for the power holders the continued right to decide. Further up the ladder are levels of citizen power with increasing degrees of decision-making clout. Citizens can enter into a (6) Partnership that enables them to negotiate and engage in trade-offs with traditional power holders. At the topmost rungs, (7) Delegated Power and (8) Citizen Control, ‘have-not’ citizens obtain the majority of decision-making seats, or full managerial power.

The Commission is of the view that mechanisms for citizens’ participation in governance could be conceptualized in the following main forms:

  • Citizens seeking information;
  • Citizens giving suggestions;
  • Citizens demanding better services;
  • Citizens holding service providers and other government agencies’ accountable; and
  • Active citizens’ participation in administration/decision making

Citizens Seeking Information

Access to information is a fundamental pre-requisite for ensuring citizens’ participation in governance. Making information available is the first step in any strategy to empower citizens for their interaction with government. The Right to Information Act in India has in essence already laid down the ground-work for ensuring this pre requisite for citizens’ participation in governance but it is only by greater citizens’ awareness of their rights under this Act that its vision of transparency can be realized.

Citizens Giving Suggestion

Listening to the voice of citizens not just during periodic elections but on an ongoing basis is the starting point of participation of citizens in governance. Such listening could be done through public hearings, surveys, referendum etc. where citizens can give their suggestions with regard to their problems as well as the possible solutions. Citizens are in the best position to articulate their needs and suggest the appropriate solutions which is why there is often need to complement local knowledge and skills with governmental expertise. Such participation can lead to proactive engagement with the policy making process and thus creating entry points for further participation and mobilization of citizens to enter the arena of governance.
The 2nd ARC is of the view that suggestions of citizens can be of great help both at the level of policy making and implementation since citizens are in the best position to indicate their priorities and the possible solutions. While no uniform model for receiving the suggestions of citizens or holding consultations can be suggested, the Commission feels that it should be mandatory for all government organizations to develop a suitable mechanism for this purpose which could range from the simple ‘Suggestion Box’ to regular consultations with citizens’ groups.

Citizens Demanding Better Services

The objective of citizens’ participation is to ensure that government organizations work for the constituencies which they are meant to serve. For this to happen, government servants should be accountable not only to their superiors but also to citizens. It is only when this is realised by government agencies that citizens can voice their grievances with assurance that due attention is given to them.
The Commission feels that the efficiency of a government organization is best judged by its responsiveness to complaints/demands from its clients. The Commission is of the view that every government organization must ensure the following:

  • a fool- proof system for registration of all complaints
  • a prescribed time schedule for response and resolution and
  • a monitoring and evaluation mechanism to ensure that the norms prescribed are complied with.

Use of information technology tools can help to make such a system more accessible for citizens. The Commission feels that the heads of all government organizations should be made responsible for ensuring the development of such a system for responding to the complaints of citizens, on a time bound basis.

Citizens Holding Service Providers and Government Agencies Accountable

Making public agencies work and ensuring that their service delivery would meet the criteria of efficiency, equity and customer satisfaction, requires citizens to voice their grievance and their dissatisfaction in an organized manner. The mechanisms used could include citizen’s feedback and surveys, citizens’ report card and social audit.
The Commission is of the view that citizens should be given the opportunity to rate the services provided by government organizations, on a periodic basis. Regular citizens’ feedback and survey and citizens report cards should therefore be evolved by all departments for this purpose. This would not only give a voice to the citizens but also enable the agencies concerned to judge satisfaction ratings and the need for improvement.

Active Citizen’s Participation In Administration/Decision-making

Giving citizens on-going access to the decision-making process, beyond periodic consultations is a more mature and intensive form of citizens’ participation in governance which can help them negotiate with government for better policy, better plans, better projects etc. At this stage, the citizens no longer merely voice their grievances with government, but it involves government actually working with citizens.
Examples of such participation would include participatory municipal budgeting, allowing citizens to vote directly through a referendum on specific proposals for changes in public policies, projects and laws; mandatory public hearings before approval of projects or decisions such as changes in land use plans, that affect the environment and/or the local community, giving citizens’ representation on management committees for local hospitals and schools, social audit, empowering the Gram Sabha to decide on issues of implementation in government welfare schemes etc.

Recommendations

  • It should be mandatory for all government organizations to develop a suitable mechanism for receipt of suggestions from citizens, which could range from the simple ‘Suggestion Box’ to periodic consultations with citizens’ groups. Heads of the concerned organizations should ensure rigorous follow up action on the suggestions received so that these become a meaningful exercise. A system of incentives and rewards should be introduced so that suggestions that lead to significant improvement or savings can be acknowledged.
  • Every government organization must ensure the following:
      • fool-proof system for registration of all complaints,
      • A prescribed time schedule for response and resolution, and
      • a monitoring and evaluation mechanism to ensure that the norms, prescribed are complied with. Use of tools of information technology can help to make such a system more accessible for citizens. Heads of all government organizations should be made responsible for ensuring the development of such a system for responding to a time bound resolution of the complaints of citizens.
  • Regular citizens’ feedback and survey and citizens’ report cards should be evolved by all government organisations for gauging citizens’ responses to their services. These should be used as inputs for improving organizational efficiency.
  • While no single modality or mechanism can be prescribed for encouraging citizens’ participation in governance; in general, there is need to create institutionalized mechanisms for encouraging their participation in governance across public agencies at all levels and, for this to happen, the following steps are necessary:
      • A comprehensive review of policy and practice in each department/ public agency.
      • Modifying administrative procedures where necessary.
      • Entrustment of the function of institutionalizing citizens’ participation in governance to a senior level officer.
      • Performance management reviews to incorporate effectiveness in ensuring citizens’ participation in governance.
  • The objective could also be served by active and cooperative participation by government agencies in civil society initiatives in the area of citizens’ participation in grievance redressal.

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