Monday, November 1, 2004

Let them do it

Let them do it
by Narendra Luther

In administrative and managerial jargon the term ‘delegation’ occurs very frequently. It is recommended for good management in all textbooks. A good leader is one who delegates responsibility. That makes his burden lighter and helps the mangers under him grow. Every CEO makes it a point to stress in public statements and endowment lectures that delegation has been a key to his success. In a good organization the top man does not waste his time on small decisions. He concentrates on policy formulation -- that is, determining the direction and speed of the march of his forces.

What is Policy?

In the field of public administration, policy is concerned with issues. For example, it means deciding, whether we should have controlled economy, or adopt the free market approach. It may grapple with the issue of laying down the limits of foreign direct investment in various sectors, and whether we should accept the provisions of W.T.O.

Similarly, in the corporate world policy may decide whether a company should go in for diversification or stay rooted in its ‘core competence’. It would determine whether a company would concentrate on domestic market or venture into the world for exports. It may also mean deciding whether it should go alone, merge with a rival, or acquire it.

In public administration, the theory is that man on the spot knows the situation best. So he should be allowed to take appropriate decisions. He will learn by that. No doubt he will make a mistake here and there, but that is part of the process of acquiring experience and maturity. The government and corporate manuals lay down the authority of various functionaries in a hierarchy. The top people should deal with broad issues, not with the nitty gritty.

What is Power?
But in real life, power lies in small decisions. Policy is an abstract, amorphous concept. The examples of issues mentioned above don’t constitute raw power. That power lies in recruiting people for jobs, in transferring employees from one place to another. It lies in allotting work to a particular person or party – in deciding who will do what. Within the frame work of the Pubic Distribution System policy, for example, power lies in selecting beneficiaries, in choosing areas where to start the implementation of the scheme.

In the corporate world power lies in choosing a franchisee, in releasing or withholding quotas, in making purchases from particular suppliers. Negatively, it also lies in being selective in attending to service calls.
In theory, these functions are delegated to lower functionaries. But in actual practice top people poke their nose into them. I haven’t seen one person who practises delegation. If you have, let me know.

The Boss’ Wife

Once I was a deputy secretary in a Union ministry. My boss, a Joint Secretary asked me to appoint a particular person as a driver in a temporary vacancy on ad hoc basis. A fortnight later the Minister sent someone for the same job. My boss coolly asked me to sack the earlier appointee and employ the minister’s man. I suggested he should might tell the minister that the job had already been filled up. He gave me a piece of advice which I never forgot. ‘The minister is not supposed to get interested in small jobs but most probably this man has approached his wife. Now if he is not accommodated, he will go back to the Minister’s wife. She will then taunt her husband who was the boss? - He or the deputy secretary? That will hurt his ego and he will have it out with me - or you. The boss is always right. Don’t antagonize him’. So, the minister’s replaced our man.

Strictly speaking, it was within my jurisdiction to fill up the job. First my boss broke the boundary, and then the Minister.

CM’s Son-in-law

We hear ministers quite often say: ‘What is the use of becoming a minister if I can’t appoint an attender?’ They are generally not interested in policy matters which should be their preserve. Policy initiatives thus come largely from civil servants and go to the credit of ministers!

As managing director of a public undertaking, I had set up committees, amongst others, for recruitment at various levels in accordance with prescribed rules. So the cases of recruitment to lower were decided by a committee without reference to me.

Once a son-in-law of the chief minister rang me up to find out whether a particular person had been selected for a lowly job. I said I would not know. The result of the selection would be put up on the notice board after the concerned committee had made the selection. He asked me threateningly whether he should ask the chief minister. I replied that he could do as he pleased.

I was transferred after a weak of this incident. Only a few days earlier the chief minister had specially rung me up to say that he was very happy with my work.

Coming to decentralization in administration, once the late President, Sanjeeva Reddy, when he was the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, said in an address to senior officials that he was surprised at a situation in which he could be trusted with a budget of 1000 crore rupees, while his younger brother who was a sarpanch, could not be trusted to handle 50,000 rupees!

While the state governments complain against centralizations of functions by the union government, they are loath to empower local bodies. It took four decades to devolve some functions on local bodies under the Constitution through 73rd and 74th amendments in 1993. Yet the state governments have dragged their feet to vitiate the spirit of the amendments.

The Calibre of Panchayats

The local bodies don’t seem to be morally equipped yet to exercise power. Orthodoxy, casteism, and corruption seem to be entrenched in those bodies. I don’t say that they are not there in our higher legislatures. But there is a better chance of exposure there. We have seen recently the case of a panchayat members participating in an honour killing because a young woman had married a man from another community. In another case, the Panchayat let off a rapist with a small fine. More recently, a village Panchayat in Haryana ordered the annulment of a marriage of a couple because they belonged to the same ‘gotra’. It asked the husband and wife to live as brother and sister and to abort the fetus that the woman was carrying. The High Court, on the basis of a PIL had to intervene to stop the implement of the decision. Would these cases have come to our notice but for the exposure by the electronic media? The local tyranny is the worst.

I am a strong votary of delegation and decentralization. I believed in the old saying, ‘Panch mein Parmeshwar’ (In Panchs, there is God’). But the cases mentioned above have made me wonder whether I am right
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