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MUA- 2: How does it fare on the performance scale?

Patricia Mukhim

Governments are not formed so that a few people get to experience VIP status in every aspect of their lives, so much so they hardly know what’s happening on the ground. Governments are elected to meet targets and deliverables on key areas such as Health, Education, Water Supply and Sanitation, Roads, Airports, Bridges, Telecommunications and Power Supply and of course creating livelihoods amongst others. How has Meghalaya performed on these key areas on a scale of one to ten is something we need to be able to measure. In the absence of such measurements we will be entering yet another election like blind people who get carried away by the sound and fury of electoral decibels and personal diatribes that obfuscate the real issues at stake. Actually people should be elected on the basis of their performance and their ability to envision where and how Meghalaya needs to position itself 25 years hence and what are the goals that need to be set for this state to arrive at that destination.

The sad reality is that the MUA-2  is a one-man army. The other ministers are hardly audible and they don’t take a stand on issues. The Chief Minister is therefore over-exposed and takes all the flak when things go wrong as they usually do, and there is very little credit that he can take especially since what is visible is mostly what is going wrong.  Since its inception in March 2013, the Government has not produced a broad policy framework to define its mission and the desired outcomes from its 5-year term (should it remain for the full five year term). Hence delivery is haphazard and far from measurable.

We are often led to believe that politicians hold the key to implementation of various programmes and projects and if that is not happening then they should be held solely responsible. We forget that while there are only 12 ministers in the Government what actually drives governance are the 80,000 plus government employees who draw monthly salaries and enjoy other perks as well, the higher up the hierarchy they climb. The mechanisms to measure the output, outcomes, effect and impact of their daily work are largely subjective and lack coherence. The marking system is clichéd and cloistered and is not inventive or innovative to take into account the failures of the officer to deliver on certain programmes/projects.  The every fact that the same officer has been holding one department for five or ten years without any outcomes is in itself a huge failure of the system to detect that failure. We know some officers are much more blue-eyed than others and are sitting in their respective chairs not because of any innovative thinking but because they toe the political line. Other colleagues see this favouritism and are disheartened and discouraged from performing their best. In a Government system where the main purpose is to deliver public goods, it is pointless trying to please the ministers when the people are left high and dry. But who cares when the goal is not the public but private profit!

Meghalaya Government is yet to use the 360 degree assessment method where seniors, peers and juniors get to assess the officer/employee anonymously and offer feedback on the personal strengths, blind spots, hidden talents and opportunities for growth that have been left dormant in the officer/employee.  As a result even non-performers get 9/10 marks on their score sheets so one wonders how much an officer who really performs actually scores. Those of us who have watched this state being ruled run on auto-pilot for so long, know the officers who deliver and also those who have been warming their chairs but pretend to sweat like those who work until they are stressed out. Some officers are just not cut out to be administrators and I refer particularly to the state civil service officers, many of whom have got in through the backdoor (apologies who got in through the straight and narrow without pulling political strings or paying money). The dismal performance of the former is written all over the Secretariat. They don’t take hard decisions; dare not dissent with politicians while on the call of duty and continue to pursue a scheme that is already dead from start, merely because they need to show targets.

Performance measurement which also includes performance budgeting and result based budgeting can only be achieved when India comes up with radical administrative reforms which will reinvent the way Government does business. This will perhaps stop the crude rent seeking that originates from within the Government system itself, from politicians and bureaucrats who make money on every project including even those that are directly related to the welfare of women and children or to health (indenting medicines that are about to expire shortly, in collusion with drug distributors). One example of overt rent seeking is the toll gate at Umling. Why should the state government not stop the NHAI from charging toll fees when the road is not even fully completed? Why the Umsning stretch is treacherous and state government should have pushed the NHAI to repair the present thoroughfare until the new one is in place because it is the role of the Government to protect the interests of citizens! Alas here Government is always ready to tango with shady businessmen.

And in that hell of a toll gate you have all kinds of shady characters hanging around who are from this or that pressure group. The cops too are not to be left behind. If the administrative system is on its toes no one should be able to extort the people running the toll gate. So does the present marking system capture corruption, inefficiency, lack of ideas or plain and simple incompetence? It does not. It’s an outdated system that should be thrown out of the Secretariat. In fact a Government that delivers is one that looks for outcomes, rewards performers and throws out into limbo the non-performers and shirkers. The fact that the Secretariat here does not begin to function until after 11 am is one huge indication of the failure of the Government to discipline its own workers. But for that to happen the Chief Minister must be punctual and so too the Chief Secretary. There is such a thing as a peak working time. Staying late in office when half the secretariat is fatigued doing nothing and wanting to escape their bosses’ eyes so they can go home is not going to make Meghalaya achieve its goal.

What is most visible in today’s Meghalaya including its capital city of Shillong is the failure of the Public Works Department. Every road in this city is not just potholed but have developed huge craters that have become dangerous for driving especially by those using two wheelers. There is not a single road that one can cite as an example of model road-making. What does this tell us? That the PWD Minister who held the post for all of three years has failed miserably. He has been too busy looking after his personal business. This man comes from Jaintia Hills. So it means the people of Jaintia Hills saw some merit in him. What could that merit be? Is it not a fact this his only qualification is that he rode on the wave of his money power? So we have to blame both the voters and the Congress Party for weeding out aspirants who might have the potential to serve the people as their representative and recommending the names of money-bags only. I wonder if the BJP which is thinking of stepping into the electoral roller coaster in 2018 will be any different. And whether the regional parties can be better than the national parties since they are expected to be more concerned about the welfare of their own people and not depend on a High Command to turn the keys on and off.

So whether we look at Health, (except for MHIS), Education, Water Supply & Sanitation, Roads airports and Telecommunication networks the MUA-2 is a dismal failure. We are still drinking polluted water, driving swanky cars on bad roads, health care is beyond the reach of many and the Umroi airport is also yet to take off. The State Assembly building has not taken shape and the Shillong Centre for Performing Arts seems like it has run into rough waters with the architect complaining about change in drawing etc., What then, are the achievements of the Mukul Sangma Government? Will the Chief Minister please answer?

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