Performance Management and Government?
By Mandakini Devasher Surie, 06 Jul 2010

Performance management and government – two words you don’t often hear together and when you do – you’re quite likely to roll your eyes and move on to the next headline. That’s what I used to do until I attended a SAARC workshop on “Government Performance Management” which changed my mind. The two-day workshop in New Delhi from 30-31 March 2010, brought together delegates from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives, Bhutan, Nepal, Afghanistan to discuss what government’s can do to improve their performance. Quite surprisingly the Indian government is doing a whole lot.

Under a directive from the Prime Minister’s Office, departments with uncharacteristic speed and efficiency have been implementing a new “Performance Monitoring and Evaluation System” (PMES) since 2009. At the heart of the PMES is a relatively simple concept – “what gets measured, gets managed”. It marks a shift away from traditional practices of measuring expenditures as outcomes to a more rigorous system of evaluating the performance of government departments. Steered by the Cabinet Secretariat’s Performance Management Division, the PMES is designed to help government departments define, measure and monitor their progress against defined targets and indicators.

How will it work?

At the beginning of each year (1 April), government departments have to develop a Results Framework Document (RFD) which is essentially a performance agreement signed between a Minister and the Secretary of a particular department. In the RFD, departments have to address three basic questions: i) what are the main objectives of the department for the year? ii) what actions are necessary to achieve these objectives and finally iii) what are the success indicators necessary to evaluate these actions. The matrix that results from this exercise is locked into an online MIS system which is then tracked through the year. The department’s progress against these set targets is first reviewed after 6 months and finally evaluated at the end of the year (31 March). Till date, 62 line ministries have signed up to the RFD and their RFDs can already be accessed online. Under discussion is also a controversial proposal to link 40% of a Secretary’s salary to the department’s performance. If implemented this would introduce a system of performance based pay never before seen in the history of Indian administration.

Potential roadblocks?

While all of this looks fantastic on paper, you have to wonder how it will work in practice given the scale and complexity of India’s governance and service delivery system. Take the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) for example; it is one of the largest ministries in the government with a budget of Rs 66137.86 crore for the year 2010-11. The Department of Rural Development – one of three departments within the Ministry - handles a range of social sector programmes including the NREGA, SGSY, PMGSY, IAY, NSAP and PURA. The scale of their interventions is tremendous: 28 states, 619 districts, 6,484 blocks, 2.5 lakh panchayats, 15 lakh rural habitations and 542.90 lakh BPL households (data from MoRD). How do you begin to map all of this into a results based performance management system?

When you factor in the many centrally sponsored schemes and their complex funding and implementation structures – things get even more complicated. Here there are practical issues of coordination between different layers of bureaucracy, data and information gaps, limited implementation capacity, questions about the quality of services and even the quality of reporting. Over and above these implementation issues, there are broader questions about how the PMES will fit in with existing reporting and monitoring mechanisms which now include an Independent Evaluation Office and the Prime Ministers’ Delivery Monitoring Unit. Without sustained political will and proper incentives to see it through there is a real danger that the PMES will become just one amongst many well-intentioned but poorly implemented monitoring mechanisms – the ill-fated outcomes budget comes to mind.

Without a doubt, the government has its work cut out. But we have reasons to be optimistic. There is clearly a lot of political will and energy backing the PMES and its evident the Cabinet Secretariat means business. This is definitely one trend worth watching!

Mandakini Devasher Surie is a Research Associate with the Accountability Initiative.

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