With its recent initiation, the government is planning to hold the Chief Administrative Officers (CAOs) at the local levels accountable by making them sign an 18 points commitment. The list ranges from strengthening the local governments and their institutional capacity to controlling corruption within the local governments’ vicinity. Despite the terms of commitment being misleading, it may not be in vain. The CAOs will be promising to achieve multiple goals such as training the employees, timely publishing of documents on the website, and also timely self-evaluation of the institution. If the CAOs agree to the commitments and manage to achieve it, it is most likely to improve the performance of the local levels.
However, it is a matter of speculation whether the move will increase the accountability of the local governments or strengthen the federal control on the local governments. While the federal government may see it as an accountability and transparency measure, the local governments might believe it to be otherwise acting as a catalyst for a fire sparked by the Prime Minister.
Here, let us agree that the recently launched government initiative is to hold the CAOs accountable but, will it achieve the desired objective? Can accountability be achieved by making an individual sign a commitment while the entire accountability mechanism system itself is rudimentary? Though the CAOs are appointed by the federal ministry, holding a single person accountable will not reduce the irregularities. It will just show that the government is searching for a scapegoat.
But, the federal government, instead of trying to find a solution to the problem of accountability and transparency from one individual must look at the complete picture. The federal government must make changes in the current information system and the existing legislation that were made with the intention of controlling the operating irregularities.
The government has made it mandatory for the local governments to use an automated information system, SuTRA, which helps the local government in planning, budgeting, and accounting. This system will automatically generate reports that are needed to be sent to government institutions and assist in determining the required budget but the system has not been used throughout the country and grants access to only three among the multiple agencies whom the local governments report to.
Similarly, once the plans and programs for the year are maintained in SuTRA, the local governments will have to go through a series of bureaucratic procedures to change it. Now, imagine the political leaders, those elected after making several commitments. They may not be able to deliver as the system is not flexible enough to accept changes. Under such instances, there may be disputes between the elected chief and the CAO, hampering the efficient working of the local governments. Such disputes will prove to be a hindrance for the CAOs to work if they sign the 18 point commitments.
Likewise, the government has also established legislations that the local governments view as guidelines for operation. As per these legislations, the local governments have to report to multiple institutions at the federal and state level at different intervals of time. Similarly, these legislations are conflicting and confusing as they mandate local governments to follow similar procedures for achieving different objectives thus, creating duplication of work and increasing inefficiency at the local level. Along with that, the absence of sufficient human resources also adds to the burden of the local governments.
Thus, these confounding legal provisions and a rudimentary information system needs to be reformed rather than forcing the CAOs in signing the 18 commitment points in order to reduce irregularities and achieve accountability and transparency.