Insights into Editorial: Why government must hire more + MINDMAPS on Current Issues
01 December 2015
In the midst of the voices being raised against the recommendations made by the seventh pay commission, there are few people who have wholeheartedly welcomed the recommendations made.
- It’s true that these recommendations will have a fiscal impact, but it would also be a mistake if these public servants and pensioners are not given their due share.
- It is the government servants who are entrusted with the task of delivering public services. People expect that these government servants must be competent, but instinctively recoil from paying them well. The general attitude of the public towards rise in their remuneration has always been not so welcoming.
- A direct consequence of this logically inconsistent attitude is that civil servants who are honest yield easily to temptations and non-profits find it hard to recruit good talent.
Why government servants must be ensured a better pay?
Not all civil servants will be completely honest, but at the margin, having a higher pay can help reduce corruption. In any system, bad people do bad things and good people do good things. The system works when the balance is in favour of the good.
- Better pay and social prestige can prevent those who are good from leaving for greener, cleaner pastures.
- Since there is no way of isolating the good people and paying them better, it becomes necessary to pay everyone better.
In any country, the economy and society are usually ahead of the government, which causes a governance gap to emerge. In India, this gap is wide and growing. The only way to narrow it is by increasing the quality and the quantity of public officials.
Ratio of government employees to population-an analysis:
It is now a well know fact that India has very low numbers of civil servants who are necessary to carry out the basic functions of government. The shortage of officials is something that runs through the Union, State and local governments. In the Union government alone, the Seventh Pay Commission reports, there is an overall vacancy of around 18%.
- The Seventh Pay Commission refers to this in its report, noting that in the United States, the federal government has 668 employees per 1,00,000 population. In comparison, the Union government employs 139. This is not even considering the fact that under India’s constitutional structure, the Union government has a bigger charter than its American counterpart.
- India has one of the lowest ratios of government employees to population in the world. A World Bank study in 1990s found that less than 1.5% of India’s population was employed in government, which was behind countries such as Malaysia and Sri Lanka (4.5%) and China (around 3%).
- Data also show that government employment ratios in the rich and better governed West are much higher: around 15% in Scandinavian countries and 6-8% in the U.S. and Western Europe.
Why richer countries have more government employees compared to the poorer ones?
In trying to explain why this might be so, the legal scholar, Richard Posner, posits that “the relation between a nation’s economy and the percentage of its public workers is determined by a political and social culture that determines what tasks are assigned to government, what incentives and constraints are placed on public workers, and who is attracted to public service. Maybe, with the right combination, public service can be as economically productive as private enterprise.”
Then, is better pay a solution to all these problems? If not, what needs to be done?
Better pay is definitely not a panacea to all the problems. With better remuneration, there is an accompanying need to modernize government machinery. The government should concentrate on restructuring the bureaucracy.
- Restructuring the bureaucracy involves, as Posner argues, a review of what government employees do, what incentives they face and what type of people are attracted to the job.
- Government departments should be mandated to ensure competition and fair play. Civil servants should be appointed and promoted based on their performance.
- The 2nd ARC offers several concrete proposals on restructuring the bureaucracy. Implementing the Administrative Reforms Commission report is the first step in bringing about change of this nature.
Government should be ready to pay its public officials well, increase their numbers, invest in building competency, and, in the same breath, restructure government machinery to remain current with the times. This could ensure effective public service delivery.
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