Yes, it will herald a new era in governance The Nandan Nilekani-headed Technical Advisory Group, set up by the finance ministry, has made some path-breaking recommendations, including the creation of National Information Utilities (NIUs) as for-profit entities with investment from both government and private industry.
Like the Bernard Shaw and Marilyn Monroe story, will this off-spring of the government elephant — huge, potentially people-friendly, but slow-moving — and the private-sector leopard — fast, flexible but carnivorous — inherit the virtues of each rather than their drawbacks?
While precedents of such private-public joint ventures are rare, the one example from a similar field — the National Institute of Smart Governance (promoted by the government and Nasscom) — has done rather well.
With flexibility to offer market-level compensation, combined with the intellectual stimulation of their task, NIUs should be in a better position to attract, retain and motivate talented professionals, as compared to official organisations.
The government shareholding ensures strategic control and access into ministries, while its minority nature should free the NIUs from the constraints and strait-jacket of bureaucracy and governmental procedures.
The report rightly emphasises the need for
strong support from top leadership within the government. Also, it is not enough to have a dedicated mission leader. It is essential that this person — and, indeed, all core personnel in the team — stay in the job for a few years at least. In such projects, the turnstile approach for key people is a sure recipe for disaster. Guidelines will have to be explicitly worked out for transparent selection of appropriate, well-qualified, private-sector investors in the NIUs.
Clearly, such companies cannot then bid for work in the same field. Also, these NIUs must function as independent, board-run companies and not as appendages of the ministry. Finally, data security and privacy concerns must be addressed. If these issues are taken care of, the NIUs could help to bring in new efficiency and transparency to governance, and be a breath of fresh air.
Independent Policy & Strategy Analyst
But the government should not have equity The TAGUP report has clearly broken away from the adhoc strategy to a single cohesive one for governance. The challenges of governance in IT projects, of conceptualisation, selection of partners, governance structure and execution are sought to be met by the creation of NIUs as an intermediary. This is a workable model, save that they should be capitalised by public institutions, without any equity from the government, which does create conflict and lack of flexibility.
From the government side, reforms are essential in internal governance and the idea of a dedicated mission manager with assured tenure, incentive plans and flexibility for onboarding laterals should solve the challenge of lack of full focus. But terms should be set for a faster approval process through an empowered committee mechanism.
An MoU structure would work between the government and the NIU with start-up funding grants to create workable plans. Any system touching the citizen is best done by having user charges, as then there is a selfcorrecting mechanism of user reactions.
In other cases, outcome-based pricing is possibly the best method. Success would also depend on the selection of service providers for execution.
These projects are complex and need partners with deep pockets. Careful selection based on track record rather than L1 needs to be done. The stress on open standards and transparency is certainly welcome.
India is fortunate that it has the institutional framework of institutions like NSDL and CDSL, and some of the world’s best IT companies to execute these projects at an incredibly low cost. The TIN could never have been executed at the speed and cost it was done anywhere in the world.
The GST will be the game-changer for India and hopefully create asingle national market. The report lays out the structure for the IT infrastructure. But this will be more complex due to a larger number of stakeholders.
Overall, the report is path-breaking and can accelerate governance. But the government will have to dramatically change it's internal processes and financial rules to make it work.
T V Mohandas Pai
Board Member Infosys Technologies
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