The outcome of the recently concluded mid-term review of the 12th Plan would be seen at the end of the Plan, but what transpired during the marathon of meetings was that we have old issues that are hampering our planned, agreed and budgeted activities.
What came out from the review meetings was that we are still dealing with a problem that is deeply entrenched in our system, identified as a hurdle to progress and demanded solutions. We had been talking about a lack of coordination at all levels of governance. The same problem is being discussed again. Ironically, it is the bottleneck to the planned activities even with compacts and agreements signed. The only development, it seems, is finding a new term for the old problem. Today, the phrase “working in silos” has become the favourite word on every lip. And we are not talking about silos found in the farms, but the blinkered kind of management or governance.
A bigger irony is that the 12th Plan formulation, execution and implementation are underpinned by the principles of coordination, consolidation and collaboration to achieve greater gains. This is exactly what is lacking now even as we are in the middle of the Plan period. The 12th Plan is unprecedented in size and scope. We were preparing to graduate to middle-income country status. It will not succeed if we are not working together to achieve the goals of the Plan and aspirations of the people.
The bigger problem is that we are not doing anything even after knowing that “lack of coordination” is hampering planned activities. Everybody in the country, starting from a farmer to a taxi driver to the Prime Minister knows there is a lack of coordination. Nobody, it seems, is doing anything.
What we call a lack of coordination between and among government organisations at all levels actually means protecting turfs. And most times, it is for the wrong reasons. Why should a minister resist creating a department of transport, when road transport is disorganised, just because he feels his ministry would become smaller? Why should the education minister be surprised to hear new degree courses planned without his knowledge? Why is the electric vehicle project or efficient public transport project failing after three successive governments prioritised it?
Elected leaders feel that civil servants, the machinery to implement governments’ plans and policies, are protecting their turf in the name of being apolitical. Being apolitical is sometimes taken too far and used as an excuse to not cooperate, coordinate, collaborate or even work.
The examples are many. The government prioritised the EV project and took it under the Prime Minister’s Office. The only person with experience in the EV project left for another job because his opportunity of becoming a “chief” level officer was not possible in the project he worked with three people.
Our basic problem, perhaps, is the lack of professional vision. If we have that, we could work together. A recurring problem today is traffic. We do not have a department of transport. The communication ministry plans road transport, the works ministry builds roads. The coordination is so good that when people approached the communication ministry for bus services in remote Dorokha, the minister didn’t know a road had reached Dorokha.
The mid-term review meeting where everybody highlighted a lack of coordination could be the turning point. For we will not achieve if the left hand is not aware of what the right is doing is.