Thursday, August 15, 2013

A framework for classifying public officials

The suspension of a young IAS officer in Uttar Pradesh has generated considerable angst and indignation in India. Sub-divisional officers and town planners across the country demolish tens of compound walls each month, under much more communally sensitive conditions, and face commendation of their superiors. For those aware of the working of the bureaucracy, that this demolition has resulted in a suspension is more an indictment of the highest echelons on the bureaucracy (itself consisting of only IAS officers, albeit very senior ones) in the state than of its trigger-happy politicians.

But this incident, and the debate surrounding it, provides an appropriate context to examine the various management styles, personal preferences, and organizational impact of different kinds of officials. The simplest classification and description of officials is based on the honest/dishonest and effective/ineffective framework. I am inclined to believe that with small qualifications, the same holds for all kinds of public officials, not just in India but elsewhere. The matrix below tries to capture it, admittedly in a highly simplified manner, and is self-explanatory.

My three observations from this matrix. One, honest and ineffective officer is as much a liability as the honest and effective officer is an asset. Two, the dishonest and effective officer is the most difficult one to manage, since he is not only helpful and like-able at a personal level but is also growth promoting. Three, while in a second best world, stationary bandits may be the best we can hope for, the scarce positive externality generating official needs to be protected and promoted. 

1 comment:

KP said...

Excellent! Thank You. r, KP.