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Statutory Warning

This Blog is meant purely as a personal diary of a rural manager in making. It exists to record information, experiences and opinions about various issues encountered in the line of duty. Any person, institution and organization mentioned here don't assume any liability for its contents. This is not a deliberate attempt to defame anyone. And if you have actually read all that is written in the blog and are not mad at me, then thanks for your time and patience !

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Consultant Job

Let me start with a joke: I have a MBA degree and wanna be consultant in future! Does any development organization need consultant ? Yes, they do. Analyst and Consultant form a core area of jobs created in the knowledge economy. Whereas a leader can win people over in an instant due to oration and vision, an analyst can do same with the technical wizardry. But the most over-hyped and over-mocked job belongs to consultant.  Consultants are not brought on to be unbiased. They are hired to confirm a particular bias. There is a popular one line gag on consultant - "If you are not a part of the solution, there's good money to be made in prolonging the problem."

There is always a lot of conferences and consultations on ‘labour rights’ that continue to be held at five star hotels — which for one are known to underpay their employees — without a hint of irony. It may seem wrong, pragmatic, or indecisive and confused? Take your pick. A consultant must focus on collecting data and analyzing the results but always look to field for the ground movements.

Complete package of Engineering and MBA is gradually becoming a shortcut route of becoming a consultant in India. The advantages of a MBA degree isn't really only classroom learning – a degree is easily achievable and online courses available if one wants, it's hidden in network effects and networking opportunities: government, private companies, civil society, and donor agencies. Our classmates are going to form major career networks moving forward. One may say the same for most fields.  I always take words of Henry Mintzberg with bitter pill - "The trouble with ‘management’ education is that it is business education, and leaves a distorted impression of management” & “Not much will to manage, but plenty of zest for business”. ( Managers Not MBAs: A hard look at the soft practice of managing and management development)

I haven't taken MBA degree for fast tracking progress of salary, but to seek a clear relation on public policy and rural India. I want to live as decent human being who engage himself and others substantially in an inclusive development. I don't want to be limited in a AC room as consultant, waiting to speak to field staff who would have nothing but contempt in seeing a waste of financial resource as sunk cost in me. Someone once told me a mantra- "What is difficult in field training will make life easy in a consultant job." I do hope to become a better consultant one day myself.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Volunteer

It's fine to have people working in development sector with degrees from the elite colleges. But even if they are good at statistics and analysis, they cannot be decision-makers without a grassroots experience. Problem with today’s education is that it doesn't have any relationship to the real world.Images get reinforced over time with newspaper, media and cinema. Innocent Villagers, Shrewd Businessmen, Corrupt bureaucracy and Selfish Political leaders become stereotype. Such perception breaks with each intersection and performance in the field.

Living in the village with no other business but to follow native life in the present day of social media buzz and 24*7 connectivity seems bizarre. But one sees the traditions, ceremonies and transactions over and over again. What it leaves one with temporary chaos in the beginning. In addition to fostering mutual understanding, perpetually curiosity and occasionally confused volunteer start to see the way of living of a community. A long stint of month or more can create less-domineering, nonjudgmental volunteers who are not obsessed with the pursuit of the emotional highs (and photo ops) of the altruism they put effort for. It makes volunteer adapt to the culture, to be flexible, relevant and realistic. Even the long times doesn't alter you so much as the people you meet along the way shape you.

True development cannot be heralded without market, intellectual, cultural and scholarly liberalization. The very best mainstream economists/scientists were the radical youths who questioned authority when they were students. An exposure visit can give limited understanding but volunteerism/internship grooms a different aspect of personality. Our rural side has survived without services of elite rich throughout ages. They will survive but a youth needs mixed dose of idealism, activism and academic expertise. The volunteer takes more than what it gives. Giving back can be very good for career. Most of the volunteer/interns end up as consultants in international aid and lending agencies. The opportunity cost seems high in short run but benefits individual and people around.

Some people volunteer because they want mentoring while other for the sake of different experience. Even volunteer experiences work for different people from frustrating to fascinating, depending on their goals and organization policy. Too often, volunteers are thought of as a “nice to have” rather than a “necessary” resource, and facilitating agency / NGO's apply little or no rigor to evaluate their impact. They are not paid due to budget constraint and then termed as priceless instead of unpaid . Communities can mold the young as future change agents and social entrepreneurs.

There are bigger question involved in the business of volunteerism. Is voluntarism ultimately about the fulfillment of the volunteers themselves, not necessarily what they bring to the local communities they visit ? Does an intervention of a volunteer make the cure worse than disease ? Are volunteers/interns unpaid contract labors of NGOs?  An article in Onion ( 6-Day Visit To Rural African Village Completely Changes Woman’s Facebook Profile Picture) mocks volunteers with a hard hitting sense of humor. There is also a  good article showing the narcissistic side of global volunteerism. The articles are full of sarcasm but looking on the positive side, it reminded me of a line by Professor Peter Hayes: "Live somewhere else, on the terms of the people who live there, for six months. It will change your life."

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Cash Transfer Scheme

Government is so agile to implement e-governance solutions for improving its tax collection system, but prefers neolithic methods for cash disbursal decisive and purposeful governance.  The government’s budget is a mess. Subsidies have been overdone and not properly targeted. In the current year, total subsidies will be over 2.8 trillion rupees. Instead of making the direct cash transfer, all of the welfare scheme has been turned into a giant procurement exercise. That is why, Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan made a strong pitch for direct cash transfers to the poor, saying this would help reduce corruption by breaking the "cycle of dependence".

A cash transfer is a development project stripped of any active management costs, and its performance tracks the success or failure of the individual recipient. Cash Transfers are examples of certain transfer payments include welfare (financial aid), social security, and government making subsidies for certain businesses (firms)  into the bank accounts of beneficiaries, cutting out intermediaries. Cash Transfers: Sorting Through the Hype puts a balanced light on the whole exercise.

There are pros and cons attached with Cash transfers. The popular myth that “the poor people don't know what is good for them”. That, in my opinion, is derogatory. We should stop worrying that the poor are going to spend (or “waste”) their transfer income on alcohol and tobacco. They aren’t. They might buy some chocolate, though. A proper study can has been done : Do the Poor Waste Transfers on Booze and Cigarettes? No. The cash transfer is taking away discretion of government officials on taxpayers money spent in the name of welfare. Financial cost of social justice and and their concerns that the poor can't be taken without economic freedom. See more at Whose money is it anyway? to understand another side of the debate on welfare state and individual freedom.

There are two major school of thoughts under Direct Cash Transfer (DCT) - CCT and UCT.  Unconditional Cash Transfer (UCTs) consist of cash grants with means testing to ensure funds go to the intended recipients, but without extra requirements on recipient behavior. The downside of unconditional cash transfer (UCT) is in distributing money without increasing the productivity and skills of labour force in rural india. But we can see the partial benefit of Economic Freedom associated with the “distributor of welfare funds”  through cash transfer. The economic freedom to utilize funds in an unique and distinct way by each beneficiary is an important aspect of building better markets.

CCT always have strings attached of a certain criteria to be fulfilled.  The advocates of CCT pitch for skill transfer with money as sustainable economic growth cannot be created by simply distributing money or as some economists like to put it by “dropping money from a helicopter”. Both CCTs and UCTs require the beneficiaries to be linked to bank and can access financial services. But there are reports that the government’s much-hyped Direct Benefit Transfer programme has hit a roadblock. In the current situation, the current electronic system and incentives are structured, the agent has not been incentivized to offer financial services.

Only government can offer reach to the poor that is effective nature of state. while market will always go for person with better information and resources for efficiency. The social transfers together with the wages and pensions form the Government- to -person (G2P) payments. Could this ecosystem of government-to-person (G2P) payments enable or lead to financial inclusion? Even working one year  in the field of development, the blatant  truth is, I don't have solid clue of what the poor need. Sometimes its cash, sometimes skills. As per me,  DCT can serve both purpose as a seed capital in a business for enterprising individual or as a social safety net of whole family

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why Government Schemes Fail? - 2

India's new prime minister, Narendra Modi's slogan "minimum government, maximum governance" is a serious goal. Its implementation on the grass root level will be tried and tested, and that is where most of the government’s schemes fail. There are myriad of difficulties faced by the government in properly designing and implementing of the public policy. Continuing from the previous article: 'Why Government Schemes Fail?',  I will examine same question from another angles.

Design: Let us start with the design of the government schemes. What works well in the coastal belt of Kerala is unlikely to work in the Terai region of Uttar Pradesh, or for that matter, hilly lands of Garhwal. Hence, one size fits all schemes must be carefully reviewed. There is a strong tendency for planners to go in for prestige and grand projects. Through this they can leave monuments to their activity, even if defunct. The visibility is major emphasis than actual proposed work. It helps every level of government machinery to justify their budget and performance.

Most of the schemes even if redesigned are just shadows of past failed schemes. Reforms exclusively based on experience of the past suffer from another infirmity as it fails to factor in the innovations and transformations of the relevant sector. Any government scheme should be designed as a business model with incentives built for each stakeholder. Illegality in transaction slowly crumbles the scheme merely from the fact that the policy was not right from the beginning.

Involvement and Access:  More democracy is required in making designs for the schemes! Currently, the only option left with people is of protest on bad implementation of schemes. There must be welcome and feel comfortable atmosphere for non-IAS experts with domain expertise to operate in regulatory bodies and government-run organisations. Advisers from the NGO sector like CRHP, Pradan had helped in shaping better schemes in the past.

Our huge ignorance to understand the functioning of the government and the local institutions is barrier to good governance. There is need for proper channel so that people can mobilize for effective political action to prevent mismanagement of resources by government. A small time broker and politician help poor to navigate a system that gives them so little access. Hence, the complex web of subsidy, entitlements and schemes in a very well intention-ed and well designed scheme hit the rock solid wall of the gargantuan system.

Political Interference:  Government ministers announces huge scheme without having a concrete plan. It ends up similar to attempting to build a house without a blueprint. Political parties whenever come to power in central/state governments try to adopt developmental plans to suit their manifestos. This jeopardizes the future trajectory and intensity of implementation of schemes. The politically motivated decisions of fund allocation led by the relationship of the incumbent State and Central governments hinder welfare schemes and huge investments. Most of the time old developmental projects are either ignored or rejected in favour of new political discourse. There is always misalignment between financing of scheme, condition of economy and political campaign promises. This can go hugely wrong and ours current government current fight to hold Fiscal Deficit is one such glaring example. When a subsidy scheme becomes a non-viable financially, no matter how well-meaning, it must be restructured or abolished to extinction.

Planning and Coordination: Planning is done in ad-hoc manner and is generally a mere collection of schemes. This is an under-discussed problem of coordination between the intra- and inter- government departments. The right word is Convergence. Each scheme is being implemented by the respective department in isolation. Hence, it is imperative to make directed and organized efforts for converging such schemes. Convergence improves the deliver-ability of the benefits and services, it also gives better value to the public money. The Perpetuating Problem of Coordination will explain intrinsic details of the issue. The lack of reliable data for planning also causes failure of policies. With many of our allocations in schemes based on unreliable secondary data. There is dire need for collecting relevant data pertinent to all sectors, updating it periodically and planning and allocating financial and human resources based on this data. A new type of public good, Open data banks must be promoted among public, among companies and other non-government entities. With the availability of massive, publicly-held data sets in machine-readable “liquid” form can unlock the potential to spur innovation in all sectors.

Regulating and Implementation: How do you prevent abuse? The old mindset in which the command and control instinct dominated with emphasis to restrict, stifle, manipulate, control and micro-manage with new rule curb both private and public sector.A rule of thumb for efficiency standards is that they should be 'tough' but not panic inducing'. Time and space is needed to react with new initiatives.  There is heavy scrutiny of projects in implementation when problem arises due to poor design. The problem of implementation without clearly defined or sometimes ill-defined rules creates a lot of room for manipulation and hence make it inconsistent and unfair.

If you want to understand how the government functions, you must understand movement of files. All decisions in the government are taken on files through office orders. If projects/ schemes are not moving on file, then all public policy is waste. No person in bureaucracy want to take a decision without any political support and risk career damage. It eventually led to stalled projects and failure of the scheme.

Budgeting and Auditing: Why Development is considered in Terms of Expenditure Done? I am still looking for answers. Nobody is looking for the quality in government and this task has been left to the social audit. The delay in releasing funds and issuing UC (Utilization certificate) deter all the stakeholders involved in the scheme. There is always difference between fund requirement and allotment in budget. Even unimaginative funds required are just 10% increment of previous year budget. Take any scheme in government, the usual discussion in meetings revolves around Target Chase. There is a new idea floating to move away from the usual bureaucratic jargon of “targeting numbers” to “targeting names".

90 per cent of the government is now covered by the CAG, but much of this has been done through executive orders, not an amendment in our act. All PPPs, Panchayati raj institutions and NGOs getting government funding under need to be brought under the ambit of CAG. Due to no expertise on this topic, I will refrain from putting more words on the blogpost.

We are seeing that NRHM, NREGA & NRLM are delivering better result than government departments. Mission mode is working relatively well in the new order of scheme design. Accountability mechanisms and examples of government schemes that worked are quite low in our country. We need solid discussion on reports to understanding of the policies, scope, mechanisms, drivers and benefits of various schemes across different states and sectors. Everything has an expiry date, no matter how good their past performances. There is logic for having a provision to discard schemes once their utility is over. All programmes need strong monitoring, which is absent most of the times. A separate blog post is entirely needed to showcase the problem of monitoring and evaluation. That is a another story for another time.


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