A fair yardstick to measure the performance of ministers | By Haroon Khawaja

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A fair yardstick to measure the performance of ministers

THE Prime Minister this week awarded certificates to the heads of ministries and divisions based on their performance measured through a list of 1,090 targets of which 424 would be achieved this year (including 207 related to governance and 100 to infrastructure).

The exercise was put together by SAPM on Establishment.The employees and officers of the top ten, as well as those ministries whose marks fell in the next percentile, were provided with several months’ worth of bonus.

Reportedly, the Key Performance Indices were mostly set by the ministries themselves.

While no further details of targets and performance measurement criterion were made available, it seems that the yardstick was based on percentage numbers with the highest ten being chosen for accolades.

The Prime Minister narrated a story about how his teacher in school would read out loud the marks obtained by every student to dent the self-esteem of those who did not work hard to get good marks.

Not sure if it was a good idea to apply this analogy on ministers of a country of 225 million people.

The almost 40 ministers, advisors and special assistants who could not make it to the “dream team” were fuming with anger, disillusionment and perhaps a bit of jealousy, terming the criterion to be unfair and arbitrary.

Interestingly, none of the ministers from the allied parties (except the illustrious Sheikh Rashid) were able to make it either.

It is inconceivable to evolve a methodology to establish a marking criterion for measurement of performance of different ministries, based on equity.

As an example, a “brick & mortar” task achievement (which can be easily displayed and measured) cannot be compared with that of a “social development” task (which could take years to complete and would need completely different tools to measure).

Imagine trying to evolve a standard yardstick to measure the taste of an apple, an orange, a mango, a pomegranate, a banana, a tomato, a potato, a lemon, a walnut, a peanut etc.

Comparing the taste of one fruit or vegetable with another will be based on personal biases of the person who is making the comparison.

Reviewing the performance of ministries and divisions is not a new idea.The first such effort was made by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1998 soon after he announced a National Agenda in his May 1998 televised address after the Chaaghi nuclear detonations.

A National Agenda Monitoring Cell was established in the Prime Minister’s Secretariat and a team of experts was assembled from all over the country to monitor the progress of the National Agenda.

The effort was discontinued once Musharraf took over in October 1999.A more comprehensive effort was made in 2008 by Chief Minister Punjab Shehbaz Sharif, when he established a CM’s Monitoring and Implementation Cell immediately upon taking office in July 2008.

Once again, a team of experts from all over Pakistan was put together and a comprehensive plan was designed based on the political vision combined with focused research.

The idea was to push the provincial bureaucracy to move the files while also offering a helping hand in getting the actual tasks implemented.

The initiative was kept low key and each department was assessed on its specific performance measurement yardstick.

The CM would address performance issues with the ministers and secretaries privately.This cell in the CM’s Secretariat worked very successfully up until 2012.

Based on his experience as the Chairman of the PM’s National Agenda Monitoring Cell as well as the CM’s Monitoring and Implementation Cell, the author of this article has been advocating the need to institutionalize the performance assessment of the ministries and divisions.

If the Prime Minister really wishes to advance the idea of performance assessment, he needs to institutionalize it in the Planning Division (not Establishment).

It is the Planning Ministry which is (or is supposed to be) the custodian of a comprehensive plan that intertwines all ministries to work towards the vision of the political government.

Hence, the Planning Minister needs to be given this task.Additionally, the Prime Minister must understand that each ministry needs to be assessed on its own merits or demerits.

It is unreasonable to try to evolve a standard yardstick that will measure the weight, time, effort, wrought, efficiency etc, of different ministries equitably.

Finally, the Prime Minister must respect the ministers & officers and must discuss his satisfaction or otherwise with them privately.

Pitching them against one another in a classroom style show of conscience may shake the harmony that is needed to keep the interest of team members alive.

In conclusion, the performance assessment exercise can be used as a tool to keep the ministers and officers cognizant of the fact that their efforts are being monitored.

However, this needs to be an endeavour that generates collaboration rather than competition.

In terms of “governance” it is the quality, not quantity which matters.We must, therefore, use the stick of monitoring along with the carrot of handholding to make it a win-win situation for all.

—The author is a governance and economic expert, former advisor to Prime Minister and CM Punjab, a Fellow Chartered Accountant from England, and the Chairman of Pakistan Freedom Movement.

 

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