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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Tajmahal ka Tender

One of the biggest issues staring at all those who are in the business of
running sarkari companies is how to efficiently and without collateral
damage, engage contractors for getting specific jobs done in a specified
timeframe or in other words entering into contracts. During the over three
and a half decades of working for the Sarkar I have been a hapless victim
on many occasions trying to fathom ways and means of engaging the right
contractor for the job on hand, without being judged in hindsight as
someone who favoured someone else with ulterior motives. For it is strange
but true that enthusiasm and aggression for delivery is rather almost
always misunderstood for an activity directed towards personal gains.
Equally strange is the enthusiasm displayed by various agencies
collectively defined as watchdogs to view a mistake or a deviation from
established rules and processes as an act of malafide deserving of
exemplary punishment so that all others who are watching from the sidelines
and maybe inclined to act and thereby commit mistakes are instantly
motivated into rank inaction.

The smart ones having realised the pitfalls of contracting and also the
fact that they are merely human and therefore prone to committing mistakes
have achieved excellence in the art of procrastination. And the contractual
file therefore keeps on going round and round in circles and why not: the
archaic process perhaps designed for purchasing basic necessities like
potatoes or maybe tomatoes is being utilised for purchasing everything
under the sun. The extent of damage that is being caused in the garb of
transparency and the need to have a system howsoever ridiculous it may be
is indeed beyond comprehension. Indeed if the emperor Shah Jehan also had
the compulsion of going through the tendering process for building the Taj Mahal,
this 7th wonder of the world would have remained confined to his dreams.

The day I witnessed in the early nineties that a machine costing almost a
quarter of a billion has to be kept idling for want of a spare part that
may be costing less than a tenth of a million, only because the tendering
process has to be religiously followed, whatever respect I may have had for
contractual mechanisms being followed in the sarkar, evaporated. And I also
started questioning the first canon of financial propriety that our
professor of finance grilled into us during our foundation course at the
staff college, that government money has to be spent as if it's is our own.
What bullshit - one does not tender for purchasing refrigerators and one
invariably and quite often speculates with his own money. Try that with
government funds and then watch the fun for a lifetime maybe from behind
the bars.

Gross national wastage cannot and should not be overlooked in favour of
following some silly rules and processes originally made by whites to lord
over us, for trusting the natives was in no way one of their compulsions.
Strange it is that even after almost seven decades of being a free nation,
our systems and processes are mired in layers and layers of mistrust.

Yet no one complains and surprisingly most of us from the bureaucracy
either do not feel the need for a change or worse still defend the
indefensible and valiantly fight for status quo. And why not, a system that
does not differentiate between horses and donkeys obviously fails to
provide encouragement to perform. Rare are those who trudge along
nevertheless and that is the tragedy of this nation that we have been
repeatedly told was once upon a time even the envy of the gods.

There are two things to be done. First is to rewrite the tendering rules
and processes so that goods and services of the requisite quality and
quantity can be made available timely and at the  right value. And the
second is to follow what is already laid down - treat malafide as such and
not to be equated with not towing the straight line in so far as following
the laid down rules and processes is concerned. And they can be done
easily, there is no rocket science involved. Perhaps a tremendous penchant
for deliverance would be of essence in ridding this nation of the scourge
of tendering processes. The new government is indeed like the light at the end
of the tunnel and we have to merely keep moving forward regardless of the