Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Bureaucrats asked not to act on oral orders from ministers

NEW DELHI: Ministers or their personal staff may no longer be able to get any work done by merely passing an 'oral' order as government officials have been advised not to go ahead with any decision unless written orders are issued by their immediate superiors.

The advisory, issued as part of an office memorandum at the behest of Prime Minister's Office (PMO) last week, will be applicable to staff across ministries where a junior official will carry out oral order of his/her senior only after getting written confirmation. Written confirmation of any oral order will be a must, irrespective of whether such instructions are in accordance with the rules or not.

In recent years, ministers have often been reluctant to record their observations and have instead instructed officials verbally. While some officers insist that orders be spelt out on file, in several cases, including some crucial ones, babus have gone ahead and complied with the ministers' wishes. By issue the latest missive, the PMO has also put ministers on alert. The instructions from the PMO are the latest in a series of advisories and orders on toning up the government and improving the overall decision-making process.

"If any officer receives oral instructions from the minister or from his personal staff and the orders are in accordance with the norms, rules, regulations or procedures, they should be brought to the notice of the secretary (or the head of department where the officer concerned is working in)", said the manual, referred to by the office memorandum (OM).

In case the orders are "not in accordance with the norms, rules, regulations or procedures", an official should approach the secretary "stating clearly that the oral instructions are not in accordance with the rules".

Though the government manual talks about certain exceptions during emergency/urgency or when a minister is on tour or sick, it still insists that the officer should obtain the order in writing from the minister's private secretary and get it confirmed when the minister returns.

The manual said, "In rare and urgent cases when the minister is on tour or is sick and his approval has to be taken on telephone, the decision of the minister shall be conveyed by his private secretary in writing. In such case, confirmation will be obtained on file when the minister returns to headquarters or rejoins."

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Besides spelling out such dos and don'ts for babus on oral order, the ministry of personnel through the OM also instructed all ministries to conduct a regular weekly training programme for junior officials.

Noting that the present training structures were largely meant for senior civil servants as part of their "induction training" and "mandatory mid-career training", the OM, issued on October 17, said, "Perhaps, there is no training being imparted at ministry/department level covering all its Group B and C employees on same subject."

It noted that such training is also important for officials, ranging from UDC to under secretary, in this "era of rapid transformation and heightened expectation of prompt and effective public service delivery".

"The effectiveness with which the new policies are implemented will largely be dependent on the quality of civil service administration and the ability of its members to operate effectively in the changed environment. This requires a continuous focus on training of employees," said the OM.

Accordingly, the ministry of personnel advised all central departments to hold "an hour in-house weekly training" for all employees on a regular basis without dislocating their work.

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