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Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Harnessing the potential

A bold intent has been displayed by the government in announcing the massive widespread disinvestment of public sector enterprises. Yes the government is bang on, the true potential of these enterprises can be harnessed only by privatization.

The true objective is to harness the potential and privatization is apparently the means to an end. Exploiting the full potential would give a great boost to the nation’s economy and ultimately the standard of living would go up.

Where have we faltered and we in this case is the sarkari tantra that controlled, guided, gave shape and to top it all laid down the ground rules and the boundaries for these enterprises to perform.

Why these enterprises have not been able to perform as well under public ownership and sarkari management as they would under the ownership of a member of the public and management by individuals picked up based on merits.

Yet the fact remains that organizations that performed miserably while in government control blossomed with a change of ownership. I remember a doyen of the private sector keen on acquiring the national carrier telling us that he would give results without changing even a single employee as he did in all the units that he acquired earlier. He rightly put his finger on the incapability or perhaps the inability of the managements placed by the governments; to manage well.

And it is so true. Both inability due to constrained processes and gross mismatch between authority and accountability and incapability for the process to appoint heads of businesses that the enterprises actually are leaves much to be desired.

There are only a few pain points but they impart all the pain. The foremost is the tendering system that is indeed the bane of the nation and has proven almost impossible to handle. This process that takes the scalps of many invariably has in the long run proven to be more important than the end result itself, that of entering into the contract for supply or execution of goods, services or projects. The tendering system needs to be simplified and not cast in stone for in my view a process cannot be given a place higher than the objective for which the process was actually put in place.

Rank mistrust at all levels and the glorification of agencies that merely find faults in hindsight or counsel others on how they should be doing their jobs has caused damage deeper that what is apparent at first sight. A deviation from the written word even for attaining the higher good has almost been criminalized and the fine distinction between a mistake and a malafide has been thoroughly blurred. As a result while corruption could not be checked, initiative has got subdued nice and proper.

And there is a glaring absence of incentive and premium on deliverance. People who deliver should not be fearful and fear if any should be openly dispelled. The supremacy of deliverance if established can  place the public sector at par with the private for after all it is actually the same Indian guy who is manning positions in the entire public and private sectors regardless of the shades of ownership. In one he is encouraged to deliver while in the other he is afraid to go the extra mile that deliverance warrants.

While to me it appears possible, perhaps it may not be easy to change the working environment in the public sector and disinvestment has rightly emerged as the inevitable administrative compulsion.

The objective is economic growth and we need to move forward on the path that takes us there.

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