Public Service reform – IV

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  • Continued from Part-III, published on October 06, 2018

Public representatives are public servants, since they are elected by the electorate into public office to represent and take decisions that are in the interest of the public. Hence, instead of coming into the service of people through passing an examination or clearing a screening, they are directly elected for fixed and shorter period of time. In that sense, public representatives also need to have both administrative (that is law and order related general governance concerns) and technocratic skills (economists, financial experts, health experts including doctors, engineers, among others) as a whole to be able to direct and monitor properly the work of the public servants, and to legislate effectively in parliament.

Therefore, a mechanism needs to be evolved in the electoral system, whereby, for example, from every constituency — at all the tiers of government, that is, federal, provincial, and local — ‘two’ public representatives are elected, one who has expertise in administrative and the other in technocratic affairs. Herein, to undertake this, legislation in electoral laws should include setting prerequisite conditions, whereby a person standing for ‘administrative candidate’ should have at least attained bachelors degree, and for ‘technocratic candidate’ should have either a professional degree — like doctor, engineer, among others — or a master’s specialisation in a field pertaining social or natural science.

At the same time, the PM could be from either of the two groups of public representatives. Here, in terms of electing indirect elections for the positions of PM, speakership, among others, both the groups of public representatives to have equal weight in voting (one vote per person), and same majority rules as now in operation, applied.

This will allow meaningful representation of discussion in both the parliament overall, and in a specific parliamentary committee. Here, while only a technocrat of a particular subject area could be part of the related parliamentary committee, both types of candidates can take part in discourse in the overall parliamentary discussion; with administrative representatives taking part in discussions in parliamentary sessions overall, and in specific need based parliamentary committees pertaining to administrative/governance related concerns.

Moreover, at the time of voting, the technocratic parliamentarians from a particular subject area, about which the motion is primarily related to, should get a weight-age of one-and-a-half vote for example (also other weights may be adopted by consensus) since they are meant to hold better informed opinion at the back of their subject area specialization. Similarly, in the case of a motion that primarily pertains to an issue of administrative/governance related nature, there the weight-age of vote of an administrative parliamentarian should be increased to one-and-a-half.

To groom future parliamentarians, there should be nominated ‘understudy parliamentarians’ by political parties, which are represented in the parliament. There should be created an enhanced ‘parliamentary secretariat’ with each parliamentarian having an office for himself/herself and his/her understudy. It may also be legislated into electoral law, whereby no future candidate (administrative or technical) from a political party could stand in election if he/she were neither a parliamentarian nor an understudy. Therefore, to safeguard against any untoward situation, the maximum number of understudy could be set at two; so that there is at least one reserve understudy.

In terms of electing indirect elections for the positions of PM, speakership, among others, both the groups of public representatives to have equal weight in voting

It would make sense, given the five year long interval of elections, to keep the above indicated ‘candidate criterion’ for only that party, which was present in the parliament for only the most recent parliaments before the general elections. Also, the criterion is only for the number of candidates of a particular party cognizant with their strength in parliament. At the same time, this criterion should not apply for political parties that never got representation in the parliament, since there will be no parliamentarian of his/her party in the first place to have an understudy in turn.

The above is an attempt, among many others that could and should be envisaged to improve the workings of public representatives. This is because the purpose at hand, overall, is to raise the standard of public service, may that be from public servants or public representatives. Even, the private sector should be better regulated, both in terms of private organizations and market structures. The labour market itself basically is a ‘work market’, may that be in terms of contributions towards physical production activity or in providing services. Hence, increasing the efficiency of all those who are contributing a service or value-addition should be the primary goal of the government, and therefore, in terms of all streams– public servants, public representatives, and private sector.

In that sense, every sector of the polity, and not just the economy, should have parallel offices in the domains of public service, public representatives, and private sector, respectively, working towards improving that particular sector (with likely consequences for related sectors). For instance, take say the education sector, firstly and primarily there will be an institutional and organisational setup in the public servants domain, and secondly, having a possible parallel (but in a smaller size relatively speaking in this particular sector, since education is primarily the responsibility of the public sector) presence in the private sector; the two working in an interconnected way, and thirdly, the activities of the private sector further enhanced/streamlined through an independent regulator or evaluation office.

Fourthly, there would be both the overall legislative recourse of this sector in the shape of public representatives generally, and through a sector specific parliamentary committee (in this case, parliamentary committee on education) keeping a watch on the activities of this sector both for public servants and private sector (including the performance of markets). Overall, it is the responsibility of the government to ensure that all these domains of public service as indicated above, are working in the best possible manner, so that they can do justice with the choice of the electorate of brining them into public office.

For the above to happen smoothly and more real time — in terms of the interconnectedness between these domains, and the pace and depth of work of each — it would require that the whole working is shifted to ‘electronic or e-governance’. Here, each and every member from all the domains — public servants, public representatives, private sector workers, independent regulator or evaluation office workers — should have a ‘standardised online account’ at the basic level; with unique features of one set of workers depending on their particular nature of work, and access (and the extent of access) of colleagues and high-ups to their accounts, depending on their work-relatedness and seniority level with that worker.

The account itself should hold biographical details, information on the work of that person that he is currently doing and has done in the past, other departmental/sector related information may that be in the form of work of others there, or in terms of publications, journals, statistics, among others.

Apart from the public servant, public office holder, and private sector worker himself/herself, whose account it is, the most access to that account after that should be with the PM, and thereafter with varying levels of access for other public servants, public office holders, and the regulator.

In parallel, all file system — in terms of noting portion, comments/directions portion, and the file content portion — should be converted into an ‘electronic file’. This would allow enhanced pace of work, and for greater protection of the file itself, with a master copy of every file generated saved into a secure server. This would allow in terms of both well preserved institutional memory of every sector, better coordination among various stakeholders, and would save against damage of a file in the case of fire/physical damage or damage caused due to some human error.

Every file pertaining to one or more officers/worker/public office holders should appear in his/her online account, with the feature highlighting whether it is ‘open’ (work related to the task at hand being underway) or ‘closed’ (task work completed). Apart from helping the worker himself/herself to keep track of his/her work, this feature would also allow the PM or any other officer/worker/public office holders with due access clearance to see at any point in time the pace and extent of work being done in each department/sector by any particular worker, by checking into the account as to how many files have been disposed off, and which are the pending files. Also, it would allow greater access real time to gain information about the content of any particular file, and the comments/directions on it; allowing greater and quicker learning and tracking of work.

There should also be made available the feature of a ‘video communication channel’ between online account holders. This would allow quick communication between for example PM and any public servant/public office holder/private sector worker. This communication channel also should allow sharing of information and mutual viewing of files. As an extension, ‘video conference calls’ feature should also be made available, so as to save of time and financial costs on account of holding meetings physically.

(To be continued…)