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ACCOUNTABILITY OF CIVIL SERVICES -

CREATING AN INSTITUTIONAL FRAMEW ORK

B. P. MATHUR

Public accountability is the most important component of


democratic govemance. The political executive delegate iheir
powers to civil servants, who use these discretionary powers
to gram licenses and permits, levy taxes, impose fines,
execute policies and spend crores of tax payers' money. It is
widely felt that public services in India are inefficient and
indifferent to people's need. The most important reason for
poor perfonnance ofpublic services is lack of accountability
due to which public servants can shirk work, evade
responsibility and even commit misdemeanour. Accountability
ofpublic services may be brought about by creating a proper
mechanism. For this, personnel management system should
be revamped by linking promotion and career advancement
of a public servant with actual performance on job and
putting in place an Ethics Code and an effective disciplinary
regime. All senior posts should be thrown open to competition
so that most competent person is recruited, who should
guarantee delivery of high quality services which people
value.

PUBLIC ACCOUNTABILITY is the most important component of


democratic governance. Citizens have a right to know what actions have
been taken in their name, and -they should have means to force corrective
actions when government acts in an unjust, unethical or illeg_al manner.
Public accountability, like socialism, has a wide array of interpretations.
The word accountability has historical links with accounting profession
and book-keeping, but toda,y it is part of the lexicon of good governance. It
is often used synonymous ly with concepts such as
responsibility, answerability, blameworthiness, liability, and other terms
associated with the expectation of accountability. In leadership roles,
accountability is the acknowledgment and assumption of responsibility
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for actions, decisions, and policies including the administration, governance


and policy implementation, encompassing the obligation to report, explain
and be answerable for resulting consequences.
Mark Bovens 1 a public administration expert defines accountability
as, "a social relationship in which an actor feels an obligatipn to explain
and to justify his or her conduct to some significant other". The
relationship between the accountor and the significant other- the
accountability forum has three elements: First, the accountor must feel
obliged to inform the forum about his conduct, by providing data about
the performance, tasks, about the outcomes, or about procedures. Public
managers will be under formal obligation to give account on regular basis
to specific forums such as superiors, supervisory agencies, or auditors.
In case of administrative deviance, policy failures or disasters, public
officials can be forced to justify their action before parliamentar y
committees or courts of law or commissions of enquiry. Second, the
information can prompt the forum to interrogate the accountor and to
question the adequacy of the information or the legitimacy of the conduct.
Hence there is a close connection between accountabili ty and
answerability. Third, the forum passes a judgement on the conduct of an
actor. It may approve of an account, denounce a policy, or condemn the
behaviour of manager or an organisation. In passing a negative judgement
the forum may impose some sort of sanction on the accountor. The
sanction can be highly formalised such as disciplinary action or fine or
informal having accountors public image or career damaged.
Representative democracy can be analysed as a series of principal-
agent relationship. Citizens, the principals in a democracy, transfer their
sovereignty to political representatives who in turn confide their trust to a
government elected by Parliament and run its affairs through a Prime
Minister and a Cabinet, which constitutes the political executive. The
political executive delegate or mandate their power to civil servants in the
ministries who in tum, transfer their power to thousands of civil servants
working in field offices or autonomous public bodies. These civil servants
and public bodies at the _end of the line use their discretionary powers to
grant permits and licences, levy tax, impose fines, lock up_ people, execute
policies and spend crores of tax-payers money. For this reason the first
and most important function of public accountability is the democratic
control. Each of these principals in the chain of delegation, wants to control
the exercise of the tra.Ilsferred powers to holding the agent into account. At

1Mark Bovens, "Public Accountability";


in Ewan Ferlie et el (ed) : 11ze Oxford Handbook
of Public Ma11age111e11t, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2005, pp. 182-208.
ACCOUNfABILITY OF CIVIL SERVICES I 677
B. P. MATHUR

the end of the line of accountability relations, stand the citizens who judge
the performance of the government and can sanction their political
representatives by voting them out of power, at the time of elections held
at periodical intervals. The second important function of public
accountability is ensuring integrity of govemmental operations. There
should be safeguards against corruption, nepotism, abuse of power and
other forms of unacceptable behaviour. The third function is improvement
in performance. Accountability is not only about control and punishing
malfeasance, but efficient conduct of governmental operations and
delivering services which people want.
Public accountability has three dimensions: Political Accountability:
broadly means that in a democracy, the elected representatives who form
the government-the political executive, is accountable to Parliament.
Political accountability also covers accountability of an elected
representative to his party, to his constituency and observing a code of
conduct laid down for legislatures. Financial accountability implies an
obligation of the persons handling financial resources to report on the
intended and actual use of the resources. Administrative accountability
implies a system of control internal to the government including civil
service rules, standards and incentives and administrative reviews and
oversight.
Civil Services are expected to be politically neutral and therefore this
article deals with issues relating to financial and administrative
accountability.
The Financial Accountability Architecture
In a democracy the Executive-in the Government of the day, is
accountable to the Parliament. It is in legislature, that government's policies
are reviewed, its performance checked, and detailed operations particularly
relating to public expenditure are put under scrutiny. One of the principal
instrument in the hand of legislature to make executive accountable, is the
control over the purse. This power has two elements: the granting of the
money by the legislature an~ the supervision of the expenditure by State
Audit institution. The Indian Constitution has an elaborate system of
parliamentary financial control. Under Article 112 to 117 (parallel provision
Article 202 to 207 for the States) prescribe the method of presentation and
passing of the Annual Financial Statement (Budget) by the Parliament.
Union budgets perform the role of generating accountability for the actions
taken by the government. It gives an opportunity to the legislature to
comment and question the policy of the government on various issues of
national importance. However, Parliament has a very limited time at its
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disposal, nor its members are experts to scrutinise how well public money
has been spent. For this the Parliament has at its disposal an independent
functionary-the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) who submits its
Audit Reports (Article 148 to 151), which are subsequently examined by a
committee of Parliament, called Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
The system of financial control laid down in our Constitution is based
on the British parliamentary traditions. Parliamentary financial control in
Britain has a long and chequered history. After years of struggle, the existing
financial control mechanism was created, through an Exchequer and Audit
Department Act of 1866, largely due to missionary zeal of W.E. Gladstone,
who was Finance Minister and later became Prime Minster. The Act created
the office of C&AG and his reports were required to be submitted to
Parliament, to be examined by a select committee of its members, called
Committee on Public Accounts. This solved the dilemma which had baffled
parliament for a long time, 'whether expenditure should be controlled by
inexpert parliamentarians or expert non-parliamentarians'. Gladstone2 had
observed, "The finance of the country is ultimately associated with liberties
of the country. It is a powerful leverage by which the English liberty has
been gradually acquired. If the House of Commons by any chance loses
the control of the grant of public money, depend upon it, your very liberty
will be worth very little in comparison."
The CAG works on behalf of the Parliament and is key instrument in
enforcing accountability of the Executive. To fulfill this responsibility, the
scope and technique of audit has undergone major changes during last six
decades. In addition to audit of expenditure, CAG now conducts audit of
Revenues (Income-tax, Excise, Customs, etc.), as well as Commercial
Enterprises of the government. CAG has also entered the area of
Performance Audit-an evaluation of government programmes, schemes
and activities and Whether they are being carried on with due regard to
economy, efficiency and effectiveness. The Parliament and the public wants
to know how well they are being executed and whether they are producing
the intended results. Every year CAG submits a large number of reports to
Parliament and State Legislatures on development schemes, such as poverty
alleviation programmes, national literacy mission, national rural health
mission, irrigation projects, etc. Some of the CAG's reports have also
generated a great deal of national and media attention such as disinvestment
of PSU's, ONGC's joint venture with Reliance-Enron Consortium for
exploration of oil, purchase of coffin during Kargil war and the most recent
2 G spectrum sale.

2Paul Einzig, "Control of the Purse", Secker and Warburg, London, 1959.
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B. P. MATHUR

The existing system of financial control presents a number of problems.


The Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which is required to make detailed
examination of CAG's reports, is able to take up only a few reviews and
paras and bulk of the report gathers dust. Ministries and departments are
generally indifferent to CAG's reports, consider it as a 'nuisance' and
'interference' in their work. The position is alanning in the states-··in some
states the PAC meets just for few days in a year and has not even been able
to 'regularise' thousands of crores of "excess expenditure over voted
grants", a mandatory constitutional requirement.
The present financial control system has another snag. Traditionally,
the main responsibility of CAG is to conduct Regularity audit-an
examination whether money has been spent in accordance with law, rules
and regulation. When audit notes that public officials have misused or
wasted public money due to negligence or wrongful action, it reports to
administrative departments. The Departments most often fail to take
corrective action, defend the action taken, howsoever unjustifiable, try to
obfuscate the issue and adopt unhelpful attitude. The situation in India is
in contrast to other countries such as France, Japan, New Zealand, Australia,
South Korea, China, Thailand, etc. where Supreme Audit Institutions enjoy
adjudication power and can surcharge and recover money from officials,
if it is found that they have caused loss of public money or property. For
want of effective power to ensure safety of public money and property, the
Office of CAG has virtually become a 'barking dog' which cannot bite.
Overall, the existing financial control system, cannot be said to be
fulfilling the objective of maintaining liigh degree of probity and integrity
in usage of public money and resources. It needs to be appreciated that
external control, such as overseeing of the Executive by Parliament and
public audit, while they are key component of democratic governance,
cannot by themselves improve administration and bring the desired
responsibility. It is only through an internal control mechanism that the
administration can become efficient and deliver performance.
Poor Delivery of Public Services
It is widely accepted that public administration in India is inefficient,
indifferent to people's needs and unable to provide essent;ial services to
the people. Commenting on the poor culture in government offices, the
Fifth Pay Commission3 observed, "Today the government office is seen as
a dusty, moth eaten, dil)gy, paper infested hovel chockfull of babus, which
is feudal in its outlook, hierarchical in structure, antediluvian in its
procedures, dilatory in examination of issues and secretive in its dealings

Report of the Fifth Pay Commission, Vol I, 1997, p 137.


3
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with customers. Despite being one of the largest providers of services,


there is complete lack of customer orientation in various government
departments. Consequently the common man views the government
functionaries as exploiters rather than facilitators or providers." Voicing
its concern on the poor state of public services, the Planning Commission4
in its Tenth Plan (2002-2007) has commented, "While the functions of the
State in India have steadily widened, capacity to deliver has steadily
declined over the years due to administrative cynicism, rising indiscipline,
and a growing perception that the political and bureaucratic elite views
the state as an area where public office is to be used for private ends. In
almost all States, people perceive bureaucracy as wooden, disinterested in
public welfare and conupt ... Weak governance, manifesting itself in poor
service delivery, excessive regulation, and uncoordinated and wasteful
public expenditure, is seen as one of the key factors impinging on growth
and development". Things haven't improved, over years, the Second
Administrative Refonns Commission5 notes, "Inefficiency, conuption and
delays have become, in public perception, the hall mark of public
administration in India."

BRINGING ACCOUNTABILITY IN PUBLIC SERVICES

One of the biggest challenge before policy makers is to make public


services accountable so that they provide efficient, citizen friendly services.
Accountability can be brought by:
(a) Linking promotion and career advancement of an officer with
actual performance on the job.
(b) Bringing competition in civil services.
( c) Prescribing an Ethics Code.
(d) Enforcing strict disciplinary regime.
Emphasise Performance
In government there are no incentives for hard and meritorious work
and no disincentives for _poor performance. Once appointed it is almost
impossible to remove a government employee. Th~ rules relating to
promotion and its excessive reliance on Confidential Reports are so framed
that everyone gets promotion by seniority and encourages mediocrity and
poor perfonnance. Annual Confidential Reports (ACR) have become an
annual ritualistic exerCise. They are routinely written and everyone earns
4Government of India, Five Year Plan, 2002-2007, Vol. I, p. 22.
5Government of India, 10th Report of the Administrative Refonns Commission,
Refurbishing the Personnel Administration-Scaling New Heights, p. 1, 2008.
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B. P. MATHUR

a 'good' or 'satisfactory report'. The procedure for giving 'adverse entry'


is so 'bothersome' that even the most conscientious officer dreads to give
one, for the 'trouble' that the delinquent employee can create. The Second
Administrative Refonns Commission6 (ARC) while noting that the existing
system of performance appraisal is unsatisfactory has suggested that several
factors should be taken into consideration while making Performance
Appraisal: it should be more consultative and transparent with 360 degree
feedback; there should be numerical rating on the pattern of Armed Forces;
appraisal should be year round and linked to performance on the job and
an independent third party be associated with assessment.
Administrative Refonns Commission's most important suggestion is
a comprehensive in-depth assessment, at important milestone in an officer's
careef-first review. be done on completion of 14 years of service, and
another on completion of 20 years. If he/she is found unfit after second
review at 20 years, the service may be terminated. Alagh Committee (2001)
had made similar recommendations and has observed that one time
recruitment is not enough, there should be at least three to four evaluations
on one's working life and the dead-wood should be weeded out. These
recommendations are unexceptionable.
A government servant's promotion, career advancemen t and
continuance in service should be linked to his actual performance on the
job and the dead wood should be weeded out.

BRJNG COMPETITION AND SPECIALIST KNOWLEDGE


FOR SENIOR LEVEL APPOINTMENTS

The task of policy making in government is complex and needs


specialist knowledge of the subject. There is need for high degree of
specialisation and domain knowledge for holding top level posts. The
Second ARC 7 has noted that the present process of empanelment of officers
for the post of Joint Secretary and above is not fair, objective and
transparent, as it is largely based on the Annual Performance Report of the
officers and overlooks the r~al merit of the officer and his suitability for a
particular job. It has identified 12 domains in which_ officers should
specialise. Its has recommended that domain should be assigned to all the
officers of the All India Services and the Central Civil Services on
completion of 13 years of service and vacancies at the level of Deputy
Secretary/Di rector should be filled only after matching the domain
6Second ARC, lQlh Report, "Refurbishing of
Personnel Administration", Ch 11,
pp.218-242.
1/bid, pp. 172- 212.
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competence of the officer for the job. ARC has suggested introduction of
competition for senior positions in the Senior Administrative Grade (Joint
Secretary level) and above by opening these positions to all the Services.
For Higher Administrative Grade posts (Additional Secretary and above)
recruitment for some of the posts could be done from open m~ket. It has
suggested constitution of a statutory Central Ci vii Services Authority which
should deal with matters of assignment of domain, preparing panel for
posting of officers at different levels, fixing tenures, and detennining which
posts should be advertised for lateral entry.
The First Administrative Refonns Commission, far back in 1969, had
emphasised the need for specialisatio n by civil servants as a pre-
qualification for holding senior level posts and had suggested that all the
Services should have an opportunity to enter middle and senior level
management levels in Central Secretariat and selection should be made by
holding mid-career competitive examination, which should include
Interview, to be conducted by UPSC. The Surendra Nath Committee8 (2003)
and Hota Committee9 (2004 ) have also emphasised domain knowledge
and merit as the basis for appointment to the posts of Joint Secretary and
above in the Government.

NEED TO PRESCRIBE AN ETHICS CODE

Public service is a public trust. Citizens expect public servants to serve


the public interest with fairness and to manage public resources properly.
Following cases of corruption and misuse of office all over the world,
most advanced countries have prescribed a Code of Ethics for public
servants. In UK, Nolan Committee (1995) has laid down seven principles
for holders of public o°ffice: Selflessness; Integrity; Objectivity;
Accountability; Openness; Honesty; Leadership. Following Nolan
Committee recommendations, a Code of Ethics has been prescribed for
public servants (1996). The Code states following core values :Integrity-
putting the obligations of public services above own personal interests;
Honesty-bei ng truthfu_l and open; Objectivity- basing advice and
decisions on rigrous analysis of the evidence; Impartiality-acting solely
according to the merits of the case and serving equally well the governments
of different political persuasions. USA has enacted an Ethics in Government

8Report of the Group Constituted to Review the System of Performance Appraisal,


Empanelment and Placement for the All India Services and Other group A Services, July
2003; See also, Department of Personnel and Administrative Reforms website.
9Committee on Civil Services Reform
(Hota Committee}, July 2004; website of
Department of Administrative Refonn
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B. P. MATHUR

Act, under which an Office of Government Ethics has been set up, to
exercise leadership in Executive branch and to prevent conflict of interest
on the part of government employees. Commonwealth countries such as
Australia, Canada, Singapore have all prescribed Ethics Code for their
employees.
In India we do not have, as yet, an Ethics Code for public officials.
Government has prescribed Conduct Rules, which are more in the nature
of "do's" and " don'ts" and do not lay down a set of values that public
officials should imbibe. The UPA government had issued a draft of Public
Service Bill in 2005, which included a set of Values for public servants,
but so far no progress on its enactment has been made. The Second ARC
has also recommended a Code of Ethics for Civil Servants and has observed,
"Civil Service Values which all public servants should aspire, should be
defined and made applicable to all tiers of government and parastatal
organisations. Any transgression of these values should be treated as
misconduct, inviting punishment". 10 It has suggested that Code of Ethics
should include: integrity, impartiality, commitment to public service, open
accountability, devotion to duty and exemplary behaviour.
Enforce an Effective Disciplinary Regime
Presently the provisions of discipline rule are so cumbersome and
tortuous that it becomes very difficult to take action against a delinquent
employee for insubordin ation and misbehaviour. A large number of
government employees develop a cavalier attitude towards work and some
of them indulge in corruption, secure "in the fact that no action can be taken
against them, as the provisions of Civil Service Conduct and Discipline
Rules (CCA Rules), are porous and complicated with numerous loopholes
and weighted in favour of the defaulter. While corruption cases involve
criminal liability and attract the provisions of Anti-corruption Act, there
are numerous cases of dereliction of duty and misbehaviour which needs
to be dealt departmentally.
The Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution 11 headed
by Justice Venkatchalih~ has observed that, "The services have largely
remained immune from imposition of penalties due to complicate d
procedures that have grown out of constitutional guarantees- against arbitrary
and vindictive action. The constitutional safeguards have in practice acted
to shield the guilty against swift and certain punishment for abuse of public
office for private gain". The Commission has suggested a review of the
10Second Administrative Refonns Commission, ibid, pp 44-45; para 2.7.12.
Commission to Review. The Working of the Constitution ,Vol I, March 2002, p. 186,
11

Section 6.7.4.
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entire administrative law, and re-visit the issue of constitutional safeguards


under Article 311 to ensure that the honest and efficient officials are given
the requisite protection but the dishonest are not allowed to prosper in
office. The Second ARC 12 has expressed similar views. It observes that
legal protection given has created a climate of excessive secutjfy without
fear of penalty for incompetence and wrong doing. The Commission has
also recommended repeal of Article 311 and suggested recasting of the
existing disciplinary procedure to make it simple and speedy while keeping
in view the principle of natural justice.

PERFORMANCE ACCOUNTABILITY-PHil.OSOPHY OF
NEW PUBLIC MANAGEMENT

Accountability is not to be viewed only in tenns of democratic control,


and integrity of operations but also in tenns of performance. The philosophy
of New Public Management (NPM) perceives accountability in tenns of
improving the delivery of public services, measuring performance and
providing incentives to achieve targets and sanctions in case of non-
performance. Through series of reform measures such as Financial
Management Initiative, creation of Executive Agencies, Citizen's Charter,
Public Service Agreement, Britain has completely transformed its
bureaucratic structure and created a lean and efficient public service. 13
Several countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Canada and USA have
embraced the NPM philosophy and brought significant improvement in
public service delivery and efficiency. USA has enacted a Government
Result and Performance Act 1993. Following are key features of NPM.
(a) Devolution of Authority-This is based on the premise that
decisions made Closer to their actual point of impact, are with
greater knowledge of likely results and therefore better decisions.
A significant feature of devolution is removal of unnecessarily
prescriptive rules and regulations. Creation of autonomous
agencies is key component of the devolution package. The
Agency enjoys _great deal of autonomy in budgetary, staffing
and procurement matters. This enables them to devise structures
and processes that match the needs of the organisation and
deliver results that are agreed upon.

12Second ARC, Ibid, pp. 157-271.


13Andrew Edwards: 1\venty Years of Governance Reform in the United Kingdom, in
Stephen Howes et al (ed): State -Level Refom1s in India, Macmillan, Delhi, 2003, p 166;
for NPM philosophy B.P. Mathur: Governance Reform for Vision India, Macmillan, New
Delhi, 2005.
ACCOUNTABILITY OF CIVIL SERVICES I 685
B. P. MATHUR

(b) Perfonnance Contracting-The targets in terms of meeting the


objectives of the organisation are settled with ministries and an
MOU drawn to emphasise importance of delivering results.
While the framework of traditional civil service remains, the
life-time employment has been replaced by contracts.
Appointments to senior posts are made by selection through
competition and possession of domain knowledge, and a proviso
for exit in the event of non-perform ance. This imposes
accountability on Agency Heads to deliver results.
(c) Client or Customer focus-A major theme associated with
improving performance of public services is the development
of a customer or a client focus or service quality initiatives in
the public sector. The best known example of this is the U K
Citizens Charter.
One of the key component of NPM philosophy is creation of
Autonomous Agencies with Agency heads enjoying full powers in
budgetary, staffing and operational matters. Today the bulk of operations
of British government are carried through the medium of Executive
Agencies. Britain has around 140 Agencies employing 75 per cent of civil
servants. They handle diverse functions such as, issue of passport, driver
and vehicle licensing, processing of patents application and grant of social
security benefits. Independent studies have concluded that the Agency
model has brought about revolutionary changes in the culture, process and
accountability of public service in Britain. A Committee of the House of
Commons said that Executive Agencies have brought about an 'overall
transformation in government' and termed it as, 'the single most successful
reform programme in recent decade'.
Many scholars of public administration in India such as Pradip N
Khandalwala and S.K. Das support the philosophy of New Public
Management and Agencification model for revamping public administration
in India. 14 Prof. Khandalwala has developed detailed matrix for introducing
Agencification model in India and identified organisations most suitable
to be converted into Agencies. He observes, 15
Agencificatio n seems to represent the best hope of making the
machinery of governments in India efficient, economical, sensitive to

14Pradip N. Khandwalla "Transfonning Government


through New Public Management",
Ahemdabad Management Association, Ahemdabad, 2010; S.K. Das: Building a World-
Class Civil Service, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2010; Uma Medury: Public
Administration in the Global Era, Orient BlackSwan, Hyderabad, 2010.
15 Pradip Khandwallah, Ibid, p 216.
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citizens needs and staff needs, clean, objective and agile. This it
promises to do basically by transforming bureaucratic management
into profess ional, stakeho lders sensitiv e, perform ance oriented
management". The Central Public Sector Undertakings (PSU), which
enjoy great deal of autonomy, have a system of MOU (Memorandum
of Understanding) which envisages annual targets of performance in
terms of product ion, profit, cost and energy savings , and other
measurable parameters. This has helped greatly in improving their
performance, profitability and efficiency.
We should embrace the philosop hy of New Public Manage ment,
successfully adopted by UK and other countries in order to provide efficient
timely services to the people.

EMBEDDING ACCOUNTABILITY - REFORMING PERSONNEL MANAGEMENT

While parliam entary control and public audit are importa nt for
enforcin g account ability of the Executi ve in a democra tic polity, the
improve ment in performance of public services will come only when
accountability goes beyond 'institution' to 'individuals'. Individual public
employees should be held responsible for performing the task entrusted to
them and delivering result and made accountable in case of failure. For
this it is necessary to reform personnel management systems in government.
Stephen Covey the motivational guru says that Management often make
the mistake of assuming that if they correct the structures, systems and
organisation, the problem will get resolved. He says that in order to improve,
first improve the people who produce the strategy, structure, system and
styles of an organisation. As discussed earlier accountability of public
services may be brought by linking promotion and career advancement of
an officer with actual performance on the job. An Ethics Code should be
enacted, which should enunciate the core values which public employees
should imbibe, the violatio n of which should involve sanction and
punishment. There is need to bring an effective Disciplinary Rule so that
delinquent public servants ·are quickly brought to book and reprimanded.
There is· also a need to imbibe tenets of New Public Management which
has dramatically transformed the British civil service. All senior posts (say
Joint Secretary upwards) should be thrown open to competition, to which
persons outside the civil services may also be eligible and the persons
selected should guarantee delivery of services as per the target fixed for
his department.