Monday, July 23, 2012

Lowering corruption in the delivery of statutory certificates

One of the commonest sources of corruption in India is in the delivery of statutory certificates by various government agencies. Every year, across the country, millions apply for caste, income, and nativity certificates, mainly to establish their eligibility to avail affirmative action and other benefits like concessional loans, self-employment schemes, subsidies, and even government jobs. How do we reduce the magnitude of corruption in the delivery of such services?

Under the prevailing arrangement, all applications have to come with certificates that establish eligibility (they can be either of the caste, income, residence, birth or another similar certificate). For example, for any government job opening, atleast ten people apply. Typically only a small percentage of applicants are finally selected. However, all the applicants, generally a large multiple of the required vaccancies, have to procure the eligibility certificate (generally the caste and residence certificates) from the local government officials. 

The publication of any such notification (for the job opening or the self-employment scheme) is invariably followed by a massive rush to procure the requisite eligibility certificate from the local Tahsildar (the Revenue Department) or Municipal offices. Since the applications have to be submitted within the prescribed time, the respective government offices face a sudden surge in the load of applications to be processed quickly. The over-burdened municipal or tehsil office staff inevitably dilute the quality of their mandatory field enquiries. The time constraint also increases the bribes associated with procuring the certificates.

This problem can be considerably mitigated with a small process re-engineering. Instead of applying with the requisite statutory certificate, the applications can be accepted with a self-certification about caste or income or residence. Once the process (for jobs, loans, or subsidies) is completed, the successful applicant can be directed to submit eligibility certificate within a month or so. This will decongest the certificates issue channel (by lowering both the load and time constraints), increase the rigour associated with its processing, and reduce the bribes expropriated.

It is possible that the magnitude of bribes will increase given the stakes involved - the successful candidate in a job interview has much more riding on the certificate than a mere applicant! In the circumstances, information asymmetry can be useful to mitigate incentive distortions. The certificates should be general in nature, not issued for any specific purpose (in some states, residence and income certificates are issued clearly indicating the purpose of its issue). This coupled with an applications processing system where the applicant does not come into contact with the official (applications submitted through an outsourced customer service center and the certificate to be mailed to the applicant's address within a specified time) will go a long way towards improving efficiency and reducing public harassment.

Alternatively, in cases of job employment and high value loans, the department itself can send the documents (collected along with the original applications) of the successful candidates to the respective certificates processing agencies and obtain the certificates without involving the candidates. 


KP said...

Dear Gulzar,

Excellent post .. suspect that theres just too much sense in here ... and that can be a drag to its adoption. :)


Priya Shah said...

Going through your posts..and they are awesome!! Very well-written...thanks and keep posting!!

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