DailyPost 1730

The entry of the bureaucrats to the portals of power is preceded by an all-comprehensive training. The initial lessons on public finance teaches them to use public money with the same care and concern as a man with a normal common sense would use his money. As if that was not enough there is a separate paper now in the mains exam of the Indian Civil Services titled Ethics. The challenge is that this paper or the training is not enough to understand the nuances of public finance and to practice it. What is the ethical component of public finance? With the progress of the Indian democracy and complexity of the age; technological and managerial, the issues have kept on becoming knottier.

The professional skills in this arena has remained unchanged. It is also true that finance with the nuances of public finance enmeshed in procurement and project execution can hardly be taught in generic basic training of the civil servant. While some might pick, given the opportunity and interest, the government does push for this nature of expertise, so desperately required by the bureaucrat. As if the issues were not complex enough, the political executive and by its very logical extrapolation, at least all the elected representatives of the ruling party also become a part of the requirement creation, procurement and project execution process. If something has really blocked the growth, progress, and the developmental trajectory, the systems of procurement and project execution would be number 1 and 2.

If we take two recent issues which have rattled our existence and conscience to the core, it has been the non-creation of public health infrastructure in rural India. Why did project execution not happen? The non-availability of staff is only one part of the story, what has been created in most parts of the country can put highly educated and brilliant bureaucrats to shame. Can it be passed off as a health infrastructure? Lots of international funding has also gone into these projects. Will anything change, with no standard structures, resources, monitoring and audit. The digital age conveniences for performing these tasks does not mean anything to the vast parts of India. What a tragedy when the project execution does not meet even the truncated requirements of human existence?

Just think of a situation if within the given funds, all the governmental procurements and project execution would have happened of the right quality, on the given timelines and the benefits reaching the intended. All of us would agree the country would have been a much better place to live in, as compared to today. Imagine if the vaccine procurement would have happened to take care of all our requirements, we would have been in a different situation today. These are complex procurement issues with humungous administrative and public finance challenges. From Bofors till today, the ghost of procurement has not left us. The maximum of our struggle has been with faulty or substandard projects; physical, digital or otherwise. The online education digital divide is because of the digital connectivity project not finding its way to the last mile. All developed countries have perfected this art.


Sanjay Sahay

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