GoI, Go Build Thy Cap­i­tal

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page - M Muneer

Ra­jiv Gandhi had fa­mously stunned the na­tion when he said that only 15 paise of ev­ery ru­pee ear­marked for the poor ac­tu­ally reach them. With Aad­haar and digi­ti­sa­tion, things may have ame­lio­rated, but no one knows for sure. Imag­ine the pos­si­bil­i­ties if 100% reach the fi­nal ben­e­fi­ciary.

Here’s an­other one for the imag­i­na­tion: you walk into a sarkari of­fice with dread for a cer­tifi­cate and get treated as if you’re in a lux­ury car show­room. Ev­ery gov­ern­ment ser­vant you en­counter truly ser­vice­ori­ented? Far-fetched?

Not nec­es­sar­ily. It is plau­si­ble if GoI de­vel­ops its hu­man cap­i­tal akin to the pri­vate sec­tor, and aligns it to the vi­sion and mis­sion. Gov­ern­ment must in­vest in con­sti­tut­ing ‘gov­ern­ment cap­i­tal’ (GC): a bun­dle of in­tan­gi­ble as­sets that in­cludes hu­man cap­i­tal, in­for­ma­tion cap­i­tal (such as the Aad­haar, PAN and other sys­tems), lead­er­ship cap­i­tal, in­no­va­tion and ed­u­ca­tion ecosys­tems, the Cen­tre and state brands, cul­ture of mer­i­toc­racy and fair­ness, ex­e­cu­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties and so on.

To do this, the gov­ern­ment folks — in­clud­ing the pol­i­cy­mak­ers — must get trained and skilled. Al­most all the in­tan­gi­ble as­sets that form GC will be driven by one: hu­man cap­i­tal. Yet, gov­ern­ment hardly thinks about build­ing and grow­ing this most crit­i­cal cap­i­tal. Bu­reau­crats el­bow their way through to be sent to the best uni­ver­si­ties across the world for ad­di­tional train­ing. But train­ing must be con­tex­tual to the poli­cies of the elected gov­ern­ments for it to de­rive value.

Worse, the train­ing of the-less-than1,700 IAS of­fi­cers at Ivy Leagues at huge costs has poor re­turns on in­vest­ment since most of them use it for per­sonal ben­e­fits. This amount could have been bet­ter utilised had there been train­ing for other em­ploy­ees for such nor­mal things as com­mu­ni­ca­tion, cit­i­zen-cen­tric­ity, ser­vice qual­ity, pro­duc­tiv­ity, risk-tak­ing, lead­er­ship, etc. How many Har­vard- trained bu­reau­crats re­sort to train­ing their sub­or­di­nates? Pro­duc­tiv­ity suf­fers from there it­self with top­down com­mu­ni­ca­tion and no twoway dis­cus­sions.

His­tor­i­cally, coun­tries with large GC have suc­ceeded in cre­at­ing far big­ger per-capita GDP growth. Coun­tries like Saudi Ara­bia, Nige­ria and Venezuela have high nat­u­ral re­sources, but made poor in­vest­ments in their peo­ple and sys­tems, cre­at­ing far less out­put per per­son and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing much slower growth rates than coun­tries like Sin­ga­pore, Is­rael and South Korea, which have few nat­u­ral re­sources but in­vested heav­ily in hu­man and other cap­i­tal. GC cre­ates value at both macro and mi­cro eco­nomic lev­els.

GoI in­sti­tuted the Skill In­dia pro­gramme based on an OECD re­port ar­gu­ing for de­vel­op­ing coun­tries to build their skilled labour for eco­nomic progress. The fact that In­dia was way be­hind — at10% skilled hu­man cap­i­tal in com­par­i­son to the 50-92% of de­vel­oped na­tions — prompted GoI to drive Skill In­dia without ap­ply­ing fur­ther thought. The re­port didn’t spec­ify that the skilling should be­gin at home, and that it is very much the gov­ern­ment’s busi­ness to skill its em­ploy­ees.

Had that hap­pened first, the Skill In­dia mis­sion would have de­liv­ered won­ders. Cur­rently, it is a breed­ing ground for prof­i­teer­ing and nepo­tism. This is also a clas­sic case of overde­pen­dence on ex­ter­nal con­sul­tants when one’s own em­ploy­ees have irre- le­vant skills. A bu­reau­cracy driven by rules and reg­u­la­tions will al­ways float a ten­der and use the con­sul­tant to man­date ev­ery­thing else. If de­vel­oped well, gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees would be the torch­bear­ers in driv­ing ecosys­tems so needed for the fu­ture of job-cre­ation, in­no­va­tion, ed­u­ca­tion and just about ev­ery­thing else. Ex­actly how many peo­ple are em­ployed in gov­ern­ment? Ac­cord­ing to the Sev­enth Pay Com­mis­sion, no one re­ally knows! And how about pro­duc­tiv­ity? There is no data on this ei­ther, but it is much lower than in the de­vel­oped world and cer­tainly dis­mally lower than in the pri­vate sec­tor.

With the global econ­omy look­ing bleak, gov­ern­ment will have to stick to an aus­ter­ity drive and get its em­ploy­ees to do more with less, and dif­fer­ently. It should get em­ploy­ees to ‘own’ its many ini­tia­tives. Also, ur­gently needed is a sys­tem to develop the ca­pa­bil­ity and ca­pac­ity to re­design GoI’s ser­vice, be­come ‘hu­man cap­i­tal ar­chi­tects’ by pro­vid­ing ev­i­dence-based, in­no­va­tive thinking. This should in­clude em­bold­en­ing and ex­pe­dit­ing frater­ni­sa­tion, co-de­sign­ing across public ser­vices, and cre­at­ing en­abling frame­works.

If the hu­man cap­i­tal is aligned to the mis­sion, sig­nif­i­cant out­comes can be trig­gered. And with eq­ui­table nat­u­ral re­sources and in­tan­gi­ble as­sets, In­dia could leapfrog on growth rates if ac­tion is taken quickly to­day.

The writer is chief evan­ge­list, Medici In­sti­tute

Skilling them softly

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