Sunday, September 9, 2018

"Skin in the Game" Public Service Reforms in Pakistan- A Proposal

The fastest way to reform the public sector is to bring the bureaucracy's skin in the "game" of changing the bureaucratic structures and increasing the efficiency. Unless the decision makers are themselves going to feel the adverse consequences of their decisions and hurdles they would not be willing to make positive changes in improving the efficiency and reducing the long term costs of their decisions. Here are some of the reforms that will expedite the change in bureaucratic structures and efficiency for the better by involving all ministers and grade 18 and above officers (VIPs). (i) All ministers and grade 18 and above bureaucrats must be forced to get medical treatment only from government hospitals. They must be compelled to use the same process, same queues, same medicines, same wards and same food that is being given to any other patient. This is being implemented by Indus Hospital and even SIUT for all patients irrespective of the status or affiliation of the patients. (ii) Similarly, all ministers and grade 18 and above bureaucrats must be forced to get their children enrolled in government schools and universities. This should be done with a provision that no two VIPs are allowed to go into the same school till all the schools have at least one VIP. The latter provision would force all schools to be upgrades instead of a few reserved for VIPs. (iii) Similarly, such provisions could be designed for all other public services using the parameter of average case disposal time. (iv) For example, to reform AGPR's pension process, the VIPs should not be allowed to get their pension process approved in a time period less than the average time taken by other pension applicants. (v) (vi) Similarly, to expedite the passport or CNIC application process, the VIPs should not be allowed to get their application process earlier than the average time taken by the people. (vii) There should be no special protocol for any VIP of any stature whether from judiciary or intelligence or military. VIPs should be entitled to that security which is available to common people. (viii) To improve the public transport service, all grade 18+ officers must be forced to travel via public bus services or Pakistan Railways to their nearest destination irrespective of the nature of their work. No official cars should be allowed on routes where public bus service or railway service is available. All air travel should be banned for the VIPs. (ix) Similarly, disposal of cases of serving judges and other VIPs should not be done earlier than the average time of disposal of all cases at a particular stage (trial court, high court or supreme court stage). (x) For Police Reforms, no VIP's case should be taken out earlier than any other applicant in the queue. The procedure must be the same for everyone. Any exceptional call that is received by the police on any mobile number of office number must be visible to all the public. One can then work out other such processes for all the other public services.

Key Performance Indicator:

Average Processing Time for a service then becomes the most critical KPI (Key Performance Indicator) for measuring the effectiveness and efficiency of service. This is the indicator that all bureaucracy should get together to improve. No higher up should be allowed to call anyone in the department or ministry to expedite the process. The only mechanism through which a higher up's case should be expedited is through a policy or procedural decision that would improve the processing of all cases, not just the special case. All such procedures and policies and any exception granted for any case by law should be clearly visible to all on the ministry's website. Any exception granted which i not mentioned on the website and is not visible to all the public must be made a crime. Similarly, any call that is received by the department on anyone's landline or mobile number than that number should be visible to all on the website. Everyone should be allowed to call that number. No one should be allowed to meet with the officer out of turn. If an exception is made, than that exception should be available to everyone.


I have been mulling about these proposals for over a decade. It was interesting to find them recently articulated by the acclaimed author Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book, Skin in the Game, which provides insights into incentives in economies and institutions. The book argues that those who have personal stakes in outcomes, be it money, reputation or legal obligations, make better decisions. Taleb argues that many bureaucracies, such as banks or government ministries, departments, are not designed in ways to give decision-makers these incentives by separating them from the consequences of actions. Nassim Nicholas Taleb has a knack for timing. His first best-selling book, "Fooled by Randomness", was released just before the 9/11 attacks; "Black Swan", which speaks of experts’ propensity to underestimate the likelihood and consequence of rare events, was published months before the 2008 financial crisis.

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