Wednesday 2 June 2010

Better Governance - Living Life

Following up on the idea of a Government focussed on customer service, I'd like to look at the "Doing Business" series of reports that the World Bank has set out. These reports have helped trigger reforms in the business environment in numerous countries. This is really a sort of standard corporate benchmarking exercise executed well. I believe that the time has come for a similar series of "Living Life" reports that compare sovereign governments, and within countries, comparison of sub-regions right down to municipality or village wards.

Note : This part of the post was added later. The original post is available after the jump. 

The World Bank has started an annual series of reports titled "Doing Business." The overall objective is to make it easier to do business in countries. The tools that are used are (a) a relatively simplistic but significant set of well defined metrics, (b) Annual data collection with standardisation of definitions, (c) Comparison across countries on each indicator, with absolute measures as well as rankings available as a time series, and (d) Discussions on the ways laggards can move to the top end of the  scale based on what other countries have done. The areas where metrics have been defined includes (a) Starting a Business, (b) Dealing with Construction Permits, (c) Employing Workers, (d) Registering Property, (e) Getting Credit, (f) Protecting Investors, (g)  Paying Taxes, (h) Trading across Borders, (i) Enforcing Contracts, and (j) Closing a Business. Each has further sub-metrics. For the curious, India ended up ranked 133 out of 183. SIngapore is #1, Japan #15, Mexico #51, China #89, Russia #120 and Brazil #129. On the sub indicators, we do best on Getting Credit (#30) and Protecting Investors (#41), and worst on Starting a Business (#169), Dealing with Construction Permits (#175), Paying Taxes (#169) & Enforcing Contracts (#182). In other words, there's only 1 country on the entire list of 183 that are worse at Enforcing Contracts than India. Or 14 as far as Paying Taxes or Starting a Business. Only 8 as far as getting Construction Permits goes. 

Since these reports are widely available (on the internet) and reasonably well reported, there's pressure on Governments to improve their rankings. The availability of raw data and rankings for each sub-indicator for every country makes it much easier to identify and implement best practices. Upto 2009, India was the top reforming country in South Asia, so this has probably helped. Incidentally, in 2009, the World Bank has created a Doing Business in India report that takes further metrics and breaks this down into regions within India. In the 2009 Report. 17 different major cities have been rated on their ease of doing business. Ludhiana came in #1, Bhubaneshwar was #2. New Delhi was #6, Mumbai was #11. Kochi and Kolkata brought up the rear. 

As is clear, the "Doing Business" series is a result of pressure by the business and investment community to make things better across countries. The methodology is quite simple - clear indicators, well collected, results widely distributed and a strong support structure in place to help individual countries reform. Believe me, the cumulative impact of these Reports is probably greater than any single loan made by the World Bank, and probably greater than all of them put together.

So we need a Living Life series of Reports. How easy is it to be born (sex selection, maternal mortality, miscarriages, access to healthcare for pregnancy), grow up (education, nutrition, livelihood training, etc), have an identity (number of identities like passport, ration card, etc., ease of getting, ease of change), cost of living, finding work, saving for retirement, access to healthcare, safety, purchasing property, paying taxes, dying, etc. These can be broken down to the state and district level, and in particular cases down to the Taluka or Village Panchayat level. 

To give an example, having recently moved to Goa from Mumbai, I've been struck by how difficult certain things are in Goa compared to Mumbai. Part of the effect is that quite a lot of my Govemment interactions in Mumbai were in the early 1990s, when things were more lax (no terrorists running around with fake SIM cards - no SIM cards at all!). Anyway, terrorists are succeeding if things get more difficult for the common man. Having said that, there's still large differences in the way common government interactions are managed in the two places. As a simple example, to get my ration card moved from Kolkata to Mumbai took all of 1 visit for a couple of hours to the ration office (which was pretty hard to find). In Goa, it took me nearly a dozen visits in total, including spending time with the Talathi (who never visited my house, but wasted 1 month), paying some Rs. 15 or such small amount, for which there was a Government Challan filled in, I had to go the SBI to pay the amount, and return to the Ration Department with the slip. No doubt there's a huge reconciliation process at the back end when SBI gives zillions of micro payments to the government for it to reconcile against its supposed receipts (probably a scam somewhere of receipts being counterfeited). 

The 12 visits is a massive cost of Living Life in India & Goa. There's the cost of the transportation. The most significant cost is the cost of the time - there's travel time plus time waiting in Goverment offices for 2 minutes of work (come back after 1 month). There must be more efficient processes possible. Why can't we learn from the experiences of other ration offices across the country ? Is there no Department of Government Benchmarking, or Indian Institute for Improvement of Governance or Organisation for Inculcation of Quality Processes in Government ? 

Any why have so few private players seen this as an opportunity ? Many big companies abroad have come up on Government Contracts - IBM, Boeing, EDS are famous notable examples. 

This is not a one-off matter. Just think of visiting the Government office for a Birth Certificate ? Or being a witness in a minor traffic accident ? Or any of the numerous ways in which the Government intersects with our lives. Many of us cringe at the thought of having to deal with the Government. And its frankly because it doesn't see us as customers.

The smart among you would be asking why I need a ration card. Its because in Goa, for a Voter ID Card or a Passport, you need a Ration Card. And for Registering a Car or getting a Driving Licence, you need a Voter ID Card or a Passport (not a Ration Card). The craziness of the creation of Identity, especially establishing "Proof of Address" is a pretty crazy world today. But that's another post. 

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