Taking the glory while passing the buck
The Ministerial edict is getting wide publicity these
days. Headlines scream that the "Minister instructed the food department
to bring down the price of flour'', or that "Minister instructed the CEB
to provide power to industries.'' These edicts are of course little different
from those given by the Media Minister to state media institutions to "provide
equal coverage to all.'' There is another category of pronouncement, in
which a Minister says he alone "will resign if power is not provided within
the next 180 days.'' Though that's the other extreme, it is noted that
at least here, the Minister takes responsibility rather than pass the buck
to the officials.
The media has the habit of publicizing these "instructions'' and "edicts.''
The Sunday Times has done so too. These quick-fix voter friendly edicts
turn into valueless verbiage, when the officials are unable to deliver.
There is much bitterness that is generated as a result.
Ministers generally announce price reductions. Price increases are left
to hapless public servants to announce. It is a political practice or perfected
art-form of these times. When Jaffna was retaken, the then Deputy Minister
was felicitated, and presented the President with a scroll at the President's
house. When the forces lost Elephant Pass to the LTTE, on the other hand,
the three service chiefs were unceremoniously hauled up and asked to face
the music at a press conference.
All of this underlines the need to redefine and rejuvenate the public
servants role in the country's affairs. When the first political appointee
was appointed to the high echelons of the bureaucracy, it set in motion
the disintegration of an independent, upright and incorruptible public
service _to be replaced by a sorry scheme of things in which top officials
were seen scurrying after politicians for top jobs.
The bulwark of any country's civil administration is provided by the
public service. The Cabinet decides policy, but should not fall into the
habit of giving "instructions" to public servants as if they were ordering
domestic servants around. Any "instructions'' must be arrived in consultations
between Minister and his officials, and once given, these "instructions''
must be carried out in tandem by Minister and Ministry as a team. The era
of politicians taking the glory and passing on the debacles and failures
to the lesser mortals must be a thing of the past.
SAARC gropes in the dark
The futures of well over a billion people in the SAARC
region, many in the fringes if not already in the throes of poverty and
malnourishment _ depends on one single issue, that of Kashmir.
SAARC _ the poor man's club _ neither addresses nor ignores this chronic
half a century old problem, and is bogged down in grappling with all other
myriad chronic problems that beset the region.
As if this was not enough "geo-political reality'' for the people of
the sub-continent, the British Prime Minister is on tour in the region,
hectoring Britain's former colonies on how they should be civilised and
behave themselves and not go to war. SAARC as a regional grouping, is forced
to listen to these homilies, as it has not been able to forge effective
solutions to regional problems. While all other regional groupings are
making dynamic progress _ the European Union, for instance, is launching
a single currency this week.