Renu Pokharna

Archive for the ‘Civil Services Reforms’ Category

Want to join AIIMS admn? Will need MBA

In Civil Services Reforms on June 15, 2012 at 6:30 am

In a bid to modernise its services, AIIMS is all set to adopt a corporate model of functioning with the introduction of new recruitment rules for its non-doctoral staff. Hospital authorities have taken the help of private firm Deloitte India to help frame the first draft of its recruitment criteria and promotion requirements for the 300 posts in the administrative and support staff.

If all quarters of the staff give their consent, these draft rules, which make it mandatory for administrative officials and human resource staff to possess MBA degrees, will be brought in force from the next financial year.

Deloitte India was given the task of studying practices in Indian hospitals and abroad and provide the recruitment and promotion criteria best suited to AIIMS. The recommendations of the private agency were evaluated by a committee appointed under Dean of Research at AIIMS Dr A B Dey, and the cumulative draft is now being circulated among the staff for suggestions.

According to a senior official at the institute, “The need for revaluating our recruitment criteria to match the required skill sets at a premier medical institute like ours was felt after the 6th Pay Commission. After pay scales went up, we felt the need to hike expectations from our employees.”

These moves, the official added, were being brought in without affecting the prospects of existing employees. For posts where qualification criteria is being made more advanced than those possessed by incumbents, AIIMS will hold a qualifying or eligibility exam for employees to continue in their existing posts.

IT and engineering staff now need a BE or B Tech or MCA with 10 years of work experience to apply to AIIMS. Accounts officials need to have an MBA, post-graduation and graduation degrees as per their seniority levels. A Human Resource department is being instituted with a staff strength of three. The minimum qualification for these posts is an MBA.

A Public Relations department is also being set up, with posts of PR managers for which post-graduation degrees in communication is required. For the pharmacy staff, post-graduate degrees in the discipline have been made mandatory.

Among support staff, for posts of technical officers in speech and hearing, Dental departments, physiotherapy, radiotherapy and lab medicine, a post-graduation degree and clinical experience in the field has been made mandatory. For laboratory technicians, the cap has been raised from school pass-outs to graduation degrees in lab medicine.

For nursing superintendents and posts of nurses in sister grade II and III, the eligibility has been raised from matriculation pass, to BSc and MSc in Nursing, with a mandatory proficiency in computer use. OT assistants now need at least five years experience to apply to AIIMS.

A mandatory requirement for promotions is production of some research projects, or participation in assignments of continued education, in the respective areas of work for employees. According to the official, “We are trying to incentivise promotions, rather than follow the laid-back approach, characteristic of government set-ups.”

Sections of the staff have expressed displeasure over upscaling the qualifications. “We need to ensure that the existing staff who have been here for a long time do not lose out in this rat race. Nobody denies we need to improve services, but this should not be at the cost of existing employees,” a member of the staff union at AIIMS said.

 

11 June 2012,  Indian Express

Book-cooking guide

In Bizarre Laws, Civil Services Reforms, Corruption on June 12, 2012 at 6:52 am

ONE of the best things about being a government is that nobody audits your accounts. Politicians have huge leeway in drawing up and presenting their budgets. Hans Hoogervorst, the plain-speaking chairman of the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), has referred to public-sector accounting as being in “a stage of primitive anarchy”. A new IMF paper offers a helpful taxonomy of government-accounting gimmicks*.

The simplest wheezes push spending into the future. Classic forms of deferred spending that do not show up on balance-sheets until later include pension promises and public-private partnerships, where governments pay companies for infrastructure after construction is done. America met a 1987 deficit target by simply delaying military pay and Medicare payments.

Hidden borrowing is a favoured euro-zone tactic. Portugal reduced its deficit in 2010 and 2011 by taking over pension assets from private companies without recognising the new public liabilities. Greece was not alone in buying derivatives that flattered public-debt levels.

Governments can also bring future revenue forward, by selling assets or the rights to future cash flows; or avoid investment costs altogether by letting firms collect toll revenue after building infrastructure. Spending by non-governmental public entities is another way to keep liabilities off the books. Greece’s debt figure shot up by 7.8% of GDP in 2010 when Eurostat, the EU’s statistical agency, reclassified bus, railway and other public companies in the government accounts.

Some of these measures are legitimate in their own right: the private sector can often manage assets better than governments, for example. And not every public-accounting flaw is to the benefit of governments: their right to tax is not recognised on balance-sheets, for example. But trickery causes damage beyond simply obscuring the true fiscal position.

When markets are risk-averse few will take a chance on dubious public-sector accounts. There is a correlation between the amount of creative accounting that went on in the euro zone in the decade to 2003 and government-bond yields now. Ian Ball of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), the body behind a set of non-binding accounting standards for the public sector, says that “transparency is a prerequisite for confidence.”

The IMF has a helpful laundry list of ways to keep sneaky politicians in check. Accounting measures should follow the movement of economic value, not cash, so that delaying pay packets until next year (or retirement) has no effect. Governments should publish net worth, which encompasses assets and liabilities, so taking over pension schemes is less appealing. Budgets should forecast up to 50 years out, so the full effects of policy are clearly seen.

These measures would not be needed if governments followed private-sector accounting rules. The IASB and the IFAC signed an agreement in November to encourage harmonisation between public- and private-sector accounting standards. Don’t hold your breath.

 

7 Apr 2012,  Economist

Tales of the unexpected

In Bizarre Laws, Bureaucratic Delays, Civil Services Reforms, Macroeconomic Policy, Red Tape on June 3, 2012 at 6:17 am

IN 1985, the year Mikhail Gorbachev took over as head of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, India published its seventh economic plan. Its preface said planning was a “precious gift” from Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, who had been an admirer of Soviet economics. Inevitably, the goals of the document, which included ending poverty by 2000, were missed by a country mile as India slipped towards a crisis that prompted it to open up its economy in 1991.

Yet some things about the report have the capacity to surprise today. The preface’s author, Manmohan Singh, went on to lead the 1991 reforms and is now prime minister. The body behind it, the Planning Commission, is still alive and will soon launch its 12th plan for the five years beginning in April. It is the most powerful organ in India that would not be invented if it did not already exist. It is run by a bureaucratic rock star and, weirdly, is a bastion of liberal views in a government that has fallen out of love with reform.

By rights, India’s Planning Commission should be toast. Since 1991 the private sector has boomed, taking more responsibility for things such things as telecoms and infrastructure. The proportion of state spending that is judged to be “planned” (a category which used to denote capital investment but has become fuzzy) has fallen too. Meanwhile, the ability of technocrats to control the public sector has withered, as fractious coalition politics in the central government have become the norm, while the states have come under the sway of parties with their own agendas.

That the Planning Commission endures reflects several things. The desk-breakers it publishes, ruminating on everything from the number of power stations to water quality five years hence, are exercises in wish fulfilment as much as anything. But in a chaotic land they represent the best-available repository of data and long-term priorities. It is a think-tank with punch, because it has money at its disposal, allocating most of the bits of ministries’ budgets that are still “planned”. Finally, its boss since 2004 has been Montek Singh Ahluwalia, perhaps the most name-dropped man in India.

Economists and bureaucrats have a collective crush on “Montek”, who is undoubtedly brainy, and also “brilliant” at running committees and getting people to agree, one former colleague gushes. Investors often say he is the only man in the government who speaks their language. He has two things all technocrats need: the ability to pick his fights, and the ear of the boss. He served in the finance ministry under Mr Singh in the early 1990s, when, says a veteran of that era, he gave him “courage”. Today, on economic matters, he is the prime minister’s right-hand man.

Mr Ahluwalia says the commission cannot overrule ministers but has “the power to put things on the agenda; to push and persuade”. It usually supports liberal reforms, such as allowing foreign supermarkets into India, and wants less government profligacy.

Yet its aura cannot entirely hide its vulnerabilities. It may lose its power to set budgets in a looming shake-up of public finances that could end the odd distinction between planned and unplanned spending. And Mr Ahluwalia will have to retire at some point—though, by the standards of India’s politicians, at 68 he is more Justin Bieber than Mick Jagger. But even if he stays for a while, his patron, Mr Singh, probably will not. And as the new 12th plan is finalised at a time of stalled reforms and economic concerns, a question persists: what difference has the Planning Commission actually made?

This is not about the country missing some targets, most of which are entirely beyond the commission’s control. Instead, it is about the policy climate. On reform, public borrowing and bureaucratic problem-solving, the government has lost its way over the past five years. The prime minister answers to Sonia Gandhi, the head of the Congress Party, who has her own counsel. Things reached a head at the end of 2011, when Mr Singh’s government said India would welcome foreign supermarkets, but promptly backtracked after widespread protest, not least from small parties it relies on to rule.

Perhaps the Planning Commission should twist the government’s arm more. The draft of the new plan published last year was largely upbeat (the central bank has been much franker). Yet the reality may be that the technocratic advice that politicians get is sound, but they choose not to follow it because they fear it will make them unpopular. India, many believe, only knows how to reform after a crisis, as in 1991.

Being heard but politely ignored is an occupational hazard for technocrats, but over time it can be fatal. Arun Maira, a former businessman who sits on the commission, is trying to rethink its role. He argues that it must make the case for change more directly than just by whispering in important ears. “We have to talk to the people,” he says, calling for a popular debate about the dire need for reform if people’s lives are to improve. Such evangelism would be tricky if the government disagreed with the vision, and it is hard to imagine the Planning Commission’s finest on the stump across the country advocating fiscal rectitude. Still, when it comes to central planning in India, the unexpected can always happen.

 

18 Feb 2012,  Economist

Officers’ mess

In Civil Services Reforms on June 3, 2012 at 4:25 am

Caught between expectations of the public and demands of politicians, IAS and IPS officers today face a great dilemma – to do or not to do. CAG Vinod Rai recently said it was time bureaucrats stood up to be counted. That though is easier said than done.

The steel framework is creaking – bending under the weight of people’s expectations and being pulled down by the political class. The IAS and IPS officers themselves are caught in a debilitating dilemma as governance, in the words of Vinod Rai, “touches a new low” . The former IAS officer, in his new avatar as CAG of India, spoke for the entire bureaucracy when he said that the “morale of the civil servants in the country is at an all time low” .

Rai didn’t mince his words. “While some officers allowed themselves to be used, some other upright officers stood their ground preventing offences of commission. That’s where we need to be standing and counted,” he said as he delivered the 26th Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Memorial lecture at the National Police Academy, Hyderabad, recently. He ended by asking All-India Services officers to “restore citizens’ faith” in bureaucracy.

The CAG’s words couldn’t have come at a more poignant time – a time that’s witnessing a sharp rise in the cases of senior officials being “punished” for not toeing the official line. One such bureaucrat is the senior-most IAS officer of the UP cadre, Promilla Shanker . The 1976 batch officer was recently suspended by chief minister Mayawati for “going abroad without getting her leave sanctioned” . Could it be just a coincidence that the suspension came after she pointed out large-scale irregularities in the draft plan prepared by the Yamuna Expressway Industrial Development Authority? Senior even to UP chief secretary Anoop Mishra, Shanker has now written to the Centre for “being victimized for speaking my mind” . Though they work closely with politicians, bureaucrats often face the netas’ wrath for daring to challenge them. Former I&B secretary Bhaskar Ghose says while it is difficult for an officer to take a stand, it’s easier to give in. But he suggests a way out: the power of transfer and posting should be taken away from politicians and entrusted upon the Union Public Service Commission. It will help provide dynamism to the bureaucratic set-up , says Ghose, as most governments want officers who are ‘Yes men’ . “They can’t tolerate independent minded ones.”

In such a scenario taking on politicians could be suicidal. Recently, Gujarat witnessed two senior IPS officers , Sanjiv Bhatt and Rahul Sharma , being shunted out for trying to challenge chief minister Narendra Modi for his alleged role in the 2002 riots. “Such blatant harassment of senior officers sends wrong signals,” says a Gujarat cadre IPS officer on condition of anonymity.

Transfer of IPS officers may look like a routine exercise, but it’s often used by politicians to “fix them” . In July, Chhattisgarh DGP Vishwa Ranjan , (1973 batch) known for his clean record, was shifted out after the Supreme Court declared Salwa Judum an “illegal militia” . Though no reason was given, it is believed that the ex-DGP and state home minister did not see eye-to-eye on anti-Maoist operations . “Removal of the DGP at this juncture will not only derail the strategy (against Maoist); it will also demoralize the forces,” says a senior IPS officer of the Punjab cadre.

The morale of the department is the last thing on the minds of politicians as they play their power games. With every regime change in a state, “non-pliable civil servants” – almost always considered close to a previous government – are moved around like hapless pawns. After Mamata Banerjee stormed into Writers Building in May, Manoj Kumar Verma, a 1998 batch IPS officer of the West Bengal cadre (described as “efficient and fearless” by his colleagues), was removed as SP, Midnapore. Verma still remains an “officer without duty” . Verma’s case may sound bizarre but it’s not unusual. “It’s an evil throughout the country. Ruling parties do post people arbitrarily, without merit. It’s done to subjugate the bureaucracy into toeing a certain line,” says TSR Subramanian, former cabinet secretary of India. But, says Subramanian, the bureaucrats should voice their concerns within the bounds of service rules. “Done in that manner, the service rules protect you and provide immense immunity.”

 

16 Oct 2011,  The Times of India

Sam Spade at Starbucks

In Business, Civil Services Reforms, Uncategorized on May 31, 2012 at 7:43 am

If you attend a certain sort of conference, hang out at a certain sort of coffee shop or visit a certain sort of university, you’ve probably run into some of these wonderful young people who are doing good. Typically, they’ve spent a year studying abroad. They’ve traveled in the poorer regions of the world. Now they have devoted themselves to a purpose larger than self.

Often they are bursting with enthusiasm for some social entrepreneurship project: making a cheap water-purification system, starting a company that will empower Rwandan women by selling their crafts in boutiques around the world.

These people are refreshingly uncynical. Their hip service ethos is setting the moral tone for the age. Idealistic and uplifting, their worldview is spread by enlightened advertising campaigns, from Bennetton years ago to everything Apple has ever done.

It’s hard not to feel inspired by all these idealists, but their service religion does have some shortcomings. In the first place, many of these social entrepreneurs think they can evade politics. They have little faith in the political process and believe that real change happens on the ground beneath it.

That’s a delusion. You can cram all the nongovernmental organizations you want into a country, but if there is no rule of law and if the ruling class is predatory then your achievements won’t add up to much.

Furthermore, important issues always spark disagreement. Unless there is a healthy political process to resolve disputes, the ensuing hatred and conflict will destroy everything the altruists are trying to build.

There’s little social progress without political progress. Unfortunately, many of today’s young activists are really good at thinking locally and globally, but not as good at thinking nationally and regionally.

Second, the prevailing service religion underestimates the problem of disorder. Many of the activists talk as if the world can be healed if we could only insert more care, compassion and resources into it.

History is not kind to this assumption. Most poverty and suffering — whether in a country, a family or a person — flows from disorganization. A stable social order is an artificial accomplishment, the result of an accumulation of habits, hectoring, moral stricture and physical coercion. Once order is dissolved, it takes hard measures to restore it.

Yet one rarely hears social entrepreneurs talk about professional policing, honest courts or strict standards of behavior; it’s more uplifting to talk about microloans and sustainable agriculture.

In short, there’s only so much good you can do unless you are willing to confront corruption, venality and disorder head-on. So if I could, presumptuously, recommend a reading list to help these activists fill in the gaps in the prevailing service ethos, I’d start with the novels of Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler, or at least the movies based on them.

The noir heroes like Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon” served as models for a generation of Americans, and they put the focus squarely on venality, corruption and disorder and how you should behave in the face of it.

A noir hero is a moral realist. He assumes that everybody is dappled with virtue and vice, especially himself. He makes no social-class distinction and only provisional moral distinctions between the private eyes like himself and the criminals he pursues. The assumption in a Hammett book is that the good guy has a spotty past, does spotty things and that the private eye and the criminal are two sides to the same personality.

He (or she — the women in these stories follow the same code) adopts a layered personality. He hardens himself on the outside in order to protect whatever is left of the finer self within.

He is reticent, allergic to self-righteousness and appears unfeeling, but he is motivated by a disillusioned sense of honor. The world often rewards the wrong things, but each job comes with obligations and even if everything is decaying you should still take pride in your work. Under the cynical mask, there is still a basic sense of good order, that crime should be punished and bad behavior shouldn’t go uncorrected. He knows he’s not going to be uplifted by his work; that to tackle the hard jobs he’ll have to risk coarsening himself, but he doggedly plows ahead.

This worldview had a huge influence as a generation confronted crime, corruption, fascism and communism. I’m not sure I can see today’s social entrepreneurs wearing fedoras and trench coats. But noir’s moral realism would be a nice supplement to today’s prevailing ethos. It would fold some hardheadedness in with today’s service mentality. It would focus attention on the core issues: order and rule of law. And it would be necessary. Contemporary Washington, not to mention parts of the developing world, may be less seedy than the cities in the noir stories, but they are equally laced with self-deception and self-dealing.

 

12 Apr 2012,  The New York Times

Washington’s I.T. Guy

In Bureaucratic Delays, Civil Services Reforms, Corruption, Electoral Reform on May 30, 2012 at 7:23 am

Shortly after Barack Obama’s election, as progressive activists and Democratic operatives were jockeying for positions large and small within the new administration, Carl Malamud launched a quixotic campaign for an appointment as the director of the U.S. Government Printing Office. The public printer’s task, historically, has been to compile and distribute to the American people the considerable amount of information produced each day by the federal government.

Malamud, who has made a career of exploring and developing the transformative technology of the latter 20th and early 21st centuries, was eager to convert the job of public printer, which traces its roots to Benjamin Franklin, into an Internet-age publisher. He started a campaign for an appointment under the slogan “Yes We Scan.” Rep. Ed Markey, highly regarded in the tech world, wrote a glowing letter to President Obama that described Malamud as “the best qualified individual” for the post. And members of Congress received full-color books that collected supportive “tweets.”

Although Malamud says he went on three White House interviews for the post, he was unable to win the support of the leaders of the congressional committees who oversee the GPO. But lack of an official title hasn’t stopped Malamud from pursuing his open-government goals. “If called, I will certainly serve. But if not called, I will probably serve anyway,” he told The New York Times last February.

Malamud has taken it upon himself to see that all public information — from court decisions to financial disclosures to Army training tapes — is actually, well, public. Malamud, 51, has worked as a network administrator, run technology startups, and taught at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab and in Japan. He has written for Wired and Computerworld, and on one memorable day in the early 1990s, he hooked up the first White House Internet connection. Since 2007 he has devoted himself — and his bank account — to using technology to open the government to the people. He’s the sole employee of an organization, Public.Resource.org, dedicated to that purpose.

These days Malamud lives just outside of Sebastopol, a small town near San Francisco. When I met him in January, he was in New York City to make a presentation at Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy about his latest project, a proposed government-run online platform that would allow anyone to easily access all of the laws in the United States, from towns and cities all the way up to the federal level. Nearly everyone I’d talked to in Washington described Malamud as tireless, and he quickly proved them right. We talked nonstop for two hours.

The work of freeing government information often carries the connotation of exposing secrets about nefarious policies or officials’ bad behavior. Malamud, a technologist through and through, approaches it from a different angle, one that can be more palatable to the political class. His art is in figuring out how to free documents that aren’t restricted by secrecy but by the fact that the government has failed to put them online. The conventional wisdom about making all such information publicly available is that it would be too difficult, too invasive, too expensive. Malamud has made it his monumental task to disprove that. It’s a simple idea: If those materials affect people’s lives, they can and should be easily and freely accessible. Citizens must be empowered to see how the government machine works, and especially in the Internet era, there’s no excuse for keeping them in the dark.

Given Obama’s reputation as a our most tech-savvy president to date, and one whose election was due, in part, to online organizing, Malamud is betting that he can get this administration to see the wisdom in open-source government. His success or failure will speak volumes about whether Washington will reap the benefits of the Internet age — or whether the current celebration of technology culture will simply fade away.

***

Malamud’s battle to get government information online is almost as old as the Internet itself. In the early days of the World Wide Web, he ran the nonprofit Internet Multicasting Service (“the first radio station on the Internet”). From his office in the National Press Building in Washington, D.C., he broadcast everything from House and Senate floor debates to United Nations ceremonies, along with the occasional reading of the works of T.S. Eliot. At the time, Congress was pushing the Securities and Exchange Commission to publish online the financial disclosure forms required from corporations so that everyone had access to the information. The documents weren’t secret; Wall Street had easy access to them through paid services. But the SEC complained that putting the corporate disclosures online would cost $40 million and that too few Americans on the budding Internet would be interested in the data.

In 1994, Malamud received a grant from the National Science Foundation and put the financial information online himself for a fraction of what the SEC claimed it would cost. After 18 months, the online service, known as EDGAR, had skyrocketed in popularity, and Malamud seized the moment. He challenged the SEC to take over the site, putting up a note that read “This Service Will Terminate in 60 Days.” The SEC balked, citing a lack of computers and in-house expertise. So Malamud and allies loaned the commission some basic servers, tape drives, and monitors. “We put the computers in the station wagon and drove down to the SEC,” Malamud says. “We configured their T1 line and got them up and running.” The SEC’s EDGAR database is still online and remains an invaluable resource for everyone from high-rollers and journalists to students and senior-citizen investment clubs.

One top Democratic Hill staffer describes Malamud as having “a lot of ’80s punk in him mixed with DIY.” Indeed, his do-it-yourself style often doesn’t look very D.C. His website features a “Seal of Approval” — as in, a smiling cartoon seal. He likes to have friends and colleagues take their picture with a cardboard version of the seal. A program for recycling court records features an animated trash can. His joint project with the Commerce Department — in which he converts VHS tapes of old government movies to digital and posts a copy on YouTube — is called FedFlix, a reference to the movies-by-mail service NetFlix (“Carl likes to name things,” says one Democratic leadership staffer). Many of the 1,900 films Malamud has freed are, well, deeply weird. One Army training film features a female officer lecturing an underling on what a smart fashion choice miniskirts can be.

Other projects include taking several thousand photographs that the Smithsonian claimed copyright on, determining that they were in the public domain, and posting them on the photo-sharing site Flickr. He wrangled with the heavily subsidized broadcaster C-SPAN to put congressional proceedings online without copyright restrictions. His work is imbued with a spirit of whimsy and a history buff’s appreciation for all things government. But of his reputation as a gadfly, he says, “I hate that label. I take a thousand DVDs and rip them and put them online. That’s not a gadfly thing.”

“People are very confused when they first encounter Carl. They try to figure out what his angle is. They think he’s trying to get funding,” says Andrew McLaughlin, the deputy chief technology officer at the White House and a former Google exec. “Instead, he says, ‘Give me a terabyte of data.'” If you think of politics as transactional, the Malmudian equation doesn’t make a lot of sense. For one thing, freelance liberation of government information isn’t exactly lucrative. When Malamud delivered a keynote speech to several hundred people at the Grand Hyatt in Washington this past September, Public.Resource.org had only $180 left in the bank.

Donations from friends in the tech realm keep his organization afloat. Google has given Malamud what he calls pity money. “They knew I was literally going bankrupt,” he says. “I’d maxed out my credit cards.” In 2007, the Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm established by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam, made a sizable contribution to the cause. Malamud quickly spent $600,000 of it buying court records from the Federal Judiciary and putting them up online for anyone to use. It may seem crazy to execute such a feat for no electoral or financial gain, but it’s the sort of thing people do pretty regularly online — make things and give them away, hoping that other people will do cool things with them. Examples include everything from Lostpedia, the fan-written Wikipedia-style compendium on the ABC show, to Linux, the free, user-created computer operating system. Malamud just happens to think the same philosophy should apply to the federal record.

Malamud’s views on technology and information were shaped by the Internet wars of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when a pitched political battle erupted between governments, international technical bodies, and technologists over whether the development standards behind the nascent Internet would be available, for free, to anyone who wanted to help build the new network — or whether they would only be accessible to a select few experts and at a considerable cost. For a time, it looked like the forces pushing a closed approach were winning. “It just seemed wrong,” Malamud says. For one thing, he couldn’t get his hands on the standards he needed for the technical guides he was writing at the time.

What emerged was a universe of simple, open, universal rules. And you know the rest of the story: an innovation revolution followed. “The open standards won,” he says, “because any kid could download the rules of the game, understand how they work, and make a contribution.” Technologists had fought bureaucracies all over the world — and won. “It taught us,” Malamud says, “that we can make government heel.”

One way Malamud has sought to do that is with his technical expertise. When he pushed C-SPAN to post its government-video archives on the Internet, unburdened by copyright restrictions, his ability to describe concrete solutions to video — conversion and streaming-quality challenges won over C-SPAN Co-President Rob Kennedy. “Our conversations with Carl,” Kennedy says with appreciation, “are often very technical.” But Malamud’s technological orientation can also make bureaucratic obstacles enormously frustrating. “I’ll use the word ‘pure,'” Kennedy says. “He’s kind of a purist about government domain,” referring to the idea that the public should be able to easily see, read, and copy information that has to do with the workings of its government.

“We hold our priests to a higher standard,” Malamud says. A former congressional staffer myself, I suggest to Malamud that, given Congress’ limited resources, progress might be slow going. What are the options in the short term? He replies, “If they can’t afford to put all the hearings online, then they should have less of them.”

***

Malamud was born at the intersection of technology and government. He spent the first five years of his life in Switzerland while his father, noted physicist Ernest Malamud, worked at the famed European Organization for Nuclear Research, better known as CERN. (Malamud the younger returned to CERN in the 1990s while writing his travelogue Exploring the Internet. He was taken to see a young engineer working on an exciting project. “Interesting,” Malamud recalls thinking to himself, “but it won’t scale.” The engineer was Tim Berners-Lee, and his invention, the World Wide Web.) In the late 1960s, Malamud’s father moved the family to Illinois for a job at the Department of Energy’s Fermilab. Malamud earned a bachelor’s in business at Indiana University and dropped out of graduate school there with a gentleman’s MBA before finishing his dissertation in order to build IU’s computer lab, or as Malamud puts it, “do computers again.” Three years later, after working as a computer systems analyst at the Federal Reserve Board, he enrolled at Georgetown Law, but left to start his own computer consulting practice.

Years of consulting, writing, and teaching as well as some run-ins with the current and former staff of Democratic administrations followed. While running the Internet Multicasting Service in the mid 1990s, he was called in to wire the White House. In 2005, when former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta founded a new progressive think tank, Malamud came on as chief technology officer. He was not impressed with what he found at the Center for American Progress. “It was an all-Microsoft shop,” he says. “It was crawling with consultants. And it sucked.” Malamud spent two years converting Podesta’s think tank to open-source software built by its community of users, needling the Smithsonian for making exclusive deals with cable broadcasters, and setting up better computers.

In 2007, Malamud filed papers to incorporate Public.Resource.org. His goal was simple: to do whatever possible, from the outside, to make copies of laws, court documents, and other government materials available for free. It’s a ripe field. For example, PACER, the federal court’s online document service, charges 8 cents per page for access to public information. The money goes to a good cause, funding much-needed technology for district and appellate courts. In 2006, PACER generated $58 million in revenue, according to the Federal Judiciary. “I know they need the money,” Malamud says. “I’m sympathetic to that. But that doesn’t give them the right to claim something that’s not theirs.” Malamud has been working diligently to both post PACER documents that people have already paid for and get the courts to do away with the fee. In addition, he has targeted WestLaw and LexisNexis, which charge thousands of dollars for access to annotated legal proceedings.

He’s also focused his attention on the state of Oregon, which has claimed copyright on its statutes, selling copies for hundreds of dollars a pop. The claim of copyright on public law is dubious, especially considering that the constitutional justification for copyright is to spur creativity and innovation. There’s little threat that states are going to stop passing laws just because they can’t sell copies of them. Malamud’s latest victory has been buying and posting copies of building and other safety codes from all 50 states, even though very often they are marked with a copyright from one of the vendors that produces model safety codes. Justifying the gamble is a 2002 decision, Veeck v. Southern Building Code Congress Int’l Inc., that found that once something has the effect of law, it can no longer claim copyright.

Malamud is certainly willing to provoke but prefers to be sure the law is on his side. In response to his call to open PACER, a young activist, entrepreneur, and programmer named Aaron Swartz used a bit of code and a trial program at his local library to download nearly 20 million pages of files, which caught the attention of the FBI. Malamud ended up in an interrogation room with two armed agents. “Unlike my good friend Aaron Swartz and others who are willing to stick it to the man,” Malamud says, “I look very carefully at what we’re doing to see if it’s legal or not.”

In 2010 Malamud is shifting his focus somewhat. In the past, he’s often been a lone operator. Now he wants to evolve into a leader of a large-scale movement to change the relationship between people and the law. Malamud hopes that Obama’s election has created an opportunity to go beyond the decision in the Veeck case and firmly establish as an American principle that laws are accessible to anyone. The movement is centered around a simple idea known as Law.gov: an online platform that will allow anyone to easily and freely access federal, state, and local law; judicial rulings and briefs; congressional hearing transcripts; regulations; and other government materials. Malamud estimates that running something like Law.gov would cost $50 million a year, and he plans to spend the next year convening meetings about it at the nation’s top law schools, tapping into the vibrant movement for free access to law, getting judges on board, and figuring out how to build such a system.

“When I started this, I understood that I might crash and burn,” he says. “The whole point is that even if we crash and burn, the dialogue will be useful.” Indeed, the Law.gov concept is already running into the buzz saw of jurisdictions. Roberta Shaffer, head of the Law Library of Congress, surprised many when her holiday letter to her staff announced that the law library had already applied to direct the Law.gov domain. Shaffer wouldn’t speak with me for this article, but the Law Library of Congress’ Facebook page did post a pointed message: “The Law Library of Congress is a government entity, and has no formal or official relationship with Carl Malamud,” it reads. “However, the Law Library is always interested in working with and receiving feedback from concerned citizens and the organizations with which they are affiliated.” It doesn’t stop there. “Therefore, we welcome and consider input from Carl and many, many others on our public-facing initiatives.” It’s at that second “many” that you begin to think that the Law Library might not be all that welcoming to Malamud’s views on public information.

Still, Malamud believes that if he can appeal directly to the president, he can convince him that opening up access to the nation’s law archives is a worthy and achievable goal. Obama is a former constitutional law professor, after all, and a bit of a technocrat. “We really want to take this football, hand it over to the president, and say ‘go for it,'” he says. But Malamud is not convinced that the Obama White House is populated with true believers. Obama “would do his job a lot better if he did improve that infrastructure,” Malamud says. “But I don’t think that’s something that he gets. I don’t think that’s something that Rahm Emanuel gets. If you look at the [chief information officer] and [chief technology officer] of the United States sitting there with a Dell computer and a 15-inch monitor, you think to yourself, ‘Why in the hell does our CIO not have, like, three 30-inch monitors?'”

It’s time for the government to catch up to technology. Creating free and easy access to court records, congressional hearings, and C-SPAN archives isn’t a partisan issue. But open access is a populist politics all its own, a challenge to the pay-to-play mentality that has allowed the financial world to leap so far ahead when it comes to information-sharing technologies. “You see what they did with it,” Malamud says. “They drove our economy down. They stole all our money. This stuff can very much be used for evil, and it has been, often. The opportunity here is that it can now be used for different things.”

 

13  June 2010,  The American Prospect

Pay full salary to ‘fixed-wage workers’: HC to state govt

In Bureaucratic Delays, Civil Services Reforms, Gujarat on May 29, 2012 at 6:57 am

The Gujarat High Court on Wednesday directed the state government to pay wages to the ‘fixed pay workers’ as per the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission. The order is expected to result in an estimated burden of Rs 3,900 crore on the state exchequer.

An earlier order of the High Court was silent whether fixed pay employees in the government were entitled to a “minimum scale” or a total pay (regular salary). But the High Court has clarified that total pay (as applicable to any other on-roll employee) needed to be paid to the fixed pay employees, which includes basic pay, dearness allowances and other allowances.

While Additional Chief Secretary (Finance) M M Shrivastava said they will workout the figure of the “total burden” only after receiving a detailed order, a senior official said the government would have to shell out Rs 2,500 crore as arrears. This will be in addition to the Rs 1,400 crore per annum payable as salaries for the current fiscal.

“The Chief Minister had recently announced the government would be recruiting 50,000 persons in a year. These recruitment will lead to a further burden of Rs 1,000 crore on the government,” added the official.

 

12 Apr 2012,  Indian Express

AMC’s vigilance department ‘overburdened’ with complaints

In Civil Services Reforms, Gujarat, Urban Management on May 29, 2012 at 6:31 am

Going by the number of complaints and inquiries completed by the vigilance department of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) in a year, the corporation seems to be “overburdened” with complaints against its manpower.

Till April 1, 2012, as many as 906 complaints were received by the AMC’s vigilance department. Out of these, 521 have been completed so far and remaining 385 complaints are still pending with the department.

Talking about the final outcome of these complaints as decided by the vigilance department, 410 have not been proved while only 45 were proved and 66 were transferred to the concerned departments for further actions.

“Out of 906 complaints pertaining to the AMC employees right from the lowest in the hierarchy (Grade D) till the senior officials, even including deputy municipal commissioners, almost 80-90 per cent were against corruption and inefficiency in duty. Also, 90 per cent of the complaints were received from general public and remaining from the employees themselves against their colleagues or juniors and at times even seniors,” said a senior official at the vigilance department.

When contacted the AMC Municipal Commissioner Gurudas Mohapatra said, “The vigilance department has been quite active in dealing with the complaints.”

“The department does not entertain anonymous complaints until these are marked by the office of deputy municipal commissioner or the municipal commissioner,” he added.

As per sources, corruption complaints against four deputy commissioners were also received, though these could not be proved. The vigilance department either receives complaints directly from public or its own staff or these complaints are directed from the senior most officials. For further probe against the concerned employee, the vigilance department seek permission from the concerned deputy commissioner.

The complaints once proved are directed to the industrial relation department where further course of action is taken in the form of chargesheets that are being prepared against the accused.

16 May 2012, Indian Express

Tell candidates Civil Services Exam Prelims marks: CIC to UPSC

In Bizarre Laws, Bureaucratic Delays, Civil Services Reforms on May 29, 2012 at 6:28 am

The Central Information Commission (CIC) has directed the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) to disclose the marks obtained by a candidate in Civil Services Exam (CSE) Prelims, now CSAT, in case he or she has failed the first stage of the three-tier examination.

The CIC rejected all doubts raised by UPSC and said this “would help candidates make an honest assessment of their performance so that they can prepare better for the next prelims”.

This generates hope for nearly four lakh aspirants who appear every year, most of whom are rejected at the Prelims-level.

Chief Information Commissioner Satyanand Mishra on Tuesday directed, “If the marks are not disclosed immediately after the preliminary exams is over and the candidates are made to wait for nearly one year before accessing these marks, they would lose a whole year in the process and would not know why they performed the way they did.”

Earlier, there were such directions also by the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court, but the UPSC, even during legal battles with candidates, did not disclose the Prelims marks. In the present case, after going through all directions given by the HC and SC, the CIC said in its order, dated March 27, that, “these marks should be disclosed”.

The appellant, Shipra Sud, who failed the CSE Prelims 2011, had filed an application seeking the marks obtained by her. But the UPSC had denied it, saying that the “CSE is an integrated three-tier examination system in which each tier leads to the next stage and the examination is said to be complete only when all the three tiers are completed.” It contended that “disclosure of information about the marks in the preliminary exam has the potential to derail the smooth conduct of the further tiers of the examination as the information can be used to cause frivolous complaints and objections, including court cases.”

 

13 April 2012, Indian Express

Editor-in-Chief of Bihar

In Bizarre Laws, Civil Services Reforms, Corruption, Media on April 20, 2012 at 6:06 am

If you haven’t heard of an income tax raid on the residential premises of Nitish Kumar’s close aide and treasurer of the ruling Janata Dal-United (JD-U), Vinay Kumar Sinha, you are not alone. Thanks to the local media, it took a while even in Patna—where the house is located—for people to get to know. This, incidentally, is the same place where Nitish Kumar used to live until he became Chief Minister of Bihar. In the aforementioned raid, which took place in the third week of March, tax sleuths seized sacksful of cash, nearly Rs 5 crore of it, and ownership papers of 50 flats located in different parts of Patna, among other things. But in the next morning’s newspapers, this news was either missing or buried deep within as a single-column or brief item on an inside page.

“Not that it was not big news, it indeed was,” says the editor of an English daily in Bihar, “But, you see, that’s how it is.” The helplessness of this editor, who speaks anonymously, is a feeling shared by several other journalists. They talk ominously of controls placed on the media in Bihar. Yet, what is most striking about this awkward truth of the state is the determination with which this ‘control’ is being exercised on the media. It is a carrot-and-stick mechanism that is unparalleled in the modern history of Bihar.

“This is undeclared censorship,” says Dr Raihan Ghani, a veteran Urdu journalist of Patna. “I joined this profession in 1978, but I have never seen this kind of censorship before.” Dr Ghani is himself a victim of this censorship. As Chief Editor of a local Urdu daily, Pindar, he had been writing a front-page column, ‘Doh Tuk’, since March 2004. But in May 2007, one of his pieces enraged Nitish Kumar, and the paper’s proprietor had his column dropped, him demoted to Managing Editor, and his name removed from the print line. “In that column,” he says, “I had written against the misuse of religion for winning government favours. I had criticised a local Muslim religious leader, Syed Shah Shamimuddin Ahmed Monami of Khanqah Monamia, for reciting the Fatiha (opening words of The Quran) at the funeral of Manju Singh, the wife of Nitish Kumar. There is nothing wrong in a Muslim cleric reciting the Fatiha at the funeral of a Hindu. The only problem was that all other Muslim religious leaders had boycotted the funeral, as Nitish Kumar had turned it into a political event. I questioned Monami sahib because instead of demurring like other clerics, he chose to participate in such a politicised event of the JD-U and BJP, and that too, for obtaining some favour of the government.”

The response to that column spelt trouble for Dr Ghani. “The very next day,” he recounts, “I was called by the proprietor of my paper. He told me that the government was quite unhappy with me and that the state Minority Commission Chairman Naushad Ahmed wanted me ejected from my post. Soon, I was sidelined, my designation was changed from chief editor to managing editor, my name was replaced by that of the proprietor in the printline, and my column was stopped.” Frustrated, in February this year, Dr Ghani resigned. “If you are not ready to crawl, you won’t be able to get a job in [Bihar’s] Urdu press these days,” says he, now jobless, “The Urdu press has never been a good place to work, but under Nitish Kumar’s regime, it has become worse, and things are no better in the state’s Hindi press. I remember the Emergency, when there was declared censorship. Under Nitish, it is undeclared, and this makes it even more dangerous for democracy. The truth is being suppressed like never before, and the entire media is being pressured to build and burnish Nitish Kumar’s image.” Proprie- tor AK Ehsani has a different spin on the story. He says, “I had already decided to make him Managing Editor; it had nothing to do with the column.”

+++

Why did the owner of Pindar act against Dr Ghani at the government’s behest? The answer is clear from information gathered via a series of RTI applications filed by Patna-based activists, Purandar Sawarnya and Shiv Prasad Rai. What emerges is an ugly game being played by Nitish Kumar in the distribution of government advertisements—being wielded as a tool of control.

According to the RTI responses, in 2006-07, Pindar got advertisements worth just about Rs 1 lakh from the state government. In 2007-08, after Dr Ghani was gagged at the start of that fiscal year, the paper was rewarded generously: its revenues from government ads soared to Rs 24 lakh. Nitish Kumar’s largesse apparently rose in step with the paper’s willingness to please him. In 2008-09, it drew nearly Rs 40 lakh from such ads, and in 2009-10, about Rs 48 lakh. Asked for his comments on this rise in the paper’s fortunes, Ehsani simply says: “I don’t believe these figures.” Still, discerning readers can perhaps attest that Pindar remains in no mood to lose its gains by rubbing the CM the wrong way.

That paper’s is not an isolated case in Bihar. Such pulls and tugs have attended other dailies as well. And in a state with so few private sector ads to go round, the government remains an outsized source of earnings for the media. Operating from such a position of strength, the Nitish Kumar government seems to be using its ad budget as a way to transform newspapers into courtiers.

It has also spelt a dramatic increase in government ad expenditure over that of the previous Rashtriya Janata Dal regime. In the first year after Nitish Kumar assumed chief ministership, the hike in allocations was not so glaring, but the years since have seen the state splurge on publicity. From Rs 4.5 crore in 2005-06 (the RJD ruled for most of this fiscal, losing power to the JD-U-BJP alliance in November 2005), Bihar’s ad expenses rose 20 per cent to Rs 5.4 crore in 2006-07, and then almost doubled to Rs 9.65 crore in 2007-08. If that wasn’t startling enough, the figured trebled to Rs 27.5 crore in 2008-09. The government was revelling in the joys of favourable newsprint, and the figure topped Rs 34.6 crore in 2009-10, before dipping a bit to Rs 28.5 crore in 2010-11. By this point, the message was presumably loud and clear, but the dip can be explained by the fact that an election code of conduct restrained adallotments for a few months in the runup to Assembly polls in November 2010.

Apart from expanding the Bihar government’s ad budget year after year, Nitish Kumar has centralised both the awarding of ads and release of payments—a decision notified in Bihar Gazette on 12 March 2008—thus reversing the earlier regime’s policy. This, many believe, was interpreted by media managements exactly as intended: that they had better fall in line.

+++

How Nitish Kumar uses this ad lever to control the media is best illustrated by the case of Bihartimes.com. The media policy notified on 12 March 2008 also made internet sites eligible for government ads in Bihar. But Bihartimes.com, the state’s most visible news portal, is still in the queue for such ads while far less popular sites are crawling with them. As internet surfers can make out, it is being punished for continuing to carry reports related to corruption and misgovernance in the state.

Bihartimes.com has been operational since 1999, and has been No 1 from the time of its inception. Many reputed journalists and intellectuals contribute to this news portal,” says its editor Ajay Kumar, “Immediately after the state government’s policy decision in March 2008, we applied for empanelment with the Public Relations Department (PRD). But we have not even been empanelled with the PRD so far. Nor has the PRD given any concrete reason for this.”

According to Ajay Kumar, other news portals that dare to exercise independence suffer the same fate. “Lesser known sites like Magnificentbihar.com get government ads in good numbers. Even Whispersinthecorridor, which is run from Bhopal and has hardly anything to do with Bihar, gets government ads from this state,” he says, “This only shows that unless you carry favourable stories on the Nitish Kumar government, you won’t even be empanelled for such advertisements.”

There are several specific instances that show how Nitish Kumar’s tool has been calibrated to suit his purposes. Just before the Assembly polls of November 2010, two leading Hindi dailies saw their government ads vanish. All they were guilty of was carrying reports judged as unfavourable to those in power. This, even as a senior journalist was hounded out of Bihar—by his own paper’s managers—for the temerity of writing against the government.

Small wonder that journalists in Patna often refer to Nitish as Bihar’s editor-in-chief instead of Chief Minister. The sarcasm is not unwarranted. Barring a few editors and media managers, just about every journalist concurs with Justice Markandey Katju, Chairman of the Press Council of India (PCI), when he points to a media crisis in the state. On 25 February, Justice Katju said: “The information I have gathered about the media in Bihar is not good… the press does not enjoy freedom at present… I have been told that people don’t muster the courage to write against the Bihar government or its officials. The Constitution is being violated by such people… You are a government, but you are not above the Constitution.”

Yet, when a three-member enquiry team of the PCI held hearings on the issue in Patna on 1-2 April, hardly any journalist turned up to make a deposition. Of the 100 odd people who did turn up and voice their complaints, according to sources, most were members of either civil society or a political party piqued by the slanted news they were being presented. Interestingly, a few journalists sent their testimonies in sealed envelopes to the PCI team, while some others spoke to it on the phone.

“We’ve completed hearings in Patna,” says Arun Kumar, a PCI member who was on the enquiry team, “In the weeks to come, we will hold similar hearings in Gaya, Bhagalpur, Muzaffarpur, Katihar and Monghyr. Then, we will hear the government’s argument, before finalising our report and submitting it to the PCI.”

Meanwhile, nobody wants to annoy the state’s editor-in-chief. And this means having to stifle the truth if it flies in the face of Brand Bihar, a miracle of development, as it is tom-tommed. The details of a tax raid on the ruling party’s treasurer, of course, does the brand no good, so why publish it?

+++

The regime’s control mechanism has its share of apologists in the media too. The 27 March edition of Prabhat Khabar offers an example. In it, the Hindi daily’s Chief Editor Harivansha has a double-page article that purports to debunk Justice Katju’s remarks but can more sensibly be interpreted as unabashed glorification of the state government. ‘Suppose we believe that the press is not independent in Bihar, where are instances such as the Bhagalpur blindings, fodder scam or a genocide that did not find place in the local media?’ he writes (as translated from Hindi), ‘Or should we imagine news of a genocide, kidnapping or fodder scam even if they are not occurring, and only then would the press be considered free?’

Harivansha’s rhetoric, of course, is calculated to remind readers of some of Bihar’s most infamous injustices under past regimes. But the relevant point is the real state of affairs under the current government. According to the Bihar home department’s own annual report, the total number of cognisable offences—including rape, murder, robbery and kidnapping—registered in 2011 was 148,000. Now compare this with the figure for 2005, at the end of which Nitish Kumar attained power. In that year, the number of such offences stood at 104,000. That law-and-order has ‘returned’ to Bihar is just a myth.

Ironically, in the same edition of Prabhat Khabar, news of a gruesome crime was buried on page 13 as a small-single column item. It was news of the gangrape and murder of a woman at Jamui in front of her family members—who were made to run about in circles for over 12 hours before the police let them file a First Information Report (FIR).

Asked about this, Harivansh says, “We did not play the news item prominently because our correspondent at Jamui told us that the husband of the victim had a role in it. We, therefore, thought that giving prominence to that news would not have sent out a proper message. But we did carry regular follow-ups.” Asked why his paper’s ‘follow-ups’ did not care to report anything beyond the CM’s statement on the crime, he ducks the question. “That may be your viewpoint,” he says, “Nitish gets prominence because his stature is so large in Bihar.”

Of course, Prabhat Khabar was not alone in its dismissal of the appalling incident and attitude of the police. Many other dailies did the same. After all, Bihar has changed; won’t the report of a grisly murder and gangrape remind readers of Lalu Prasad’s RJD regime? And who wants to tarnish Brand Bihar?

14 April 2012, OPEN Magazine