Sunday, July 25, 2021

Poor PR skills

It has often been said that the state is a proven bad administrator because of its reluctance to unburden despite being unable to carry its burden effectively. While this seems debatable, but when we page through the functioning of various public institutions or government organizations, either in isolation or in comparison to private establishments, it appears reasonable and substantive. By maintaining an exclusive control over the provision of various public goods the state makes itself indispensable in the lives of its citizens, a tendency that has always been ridiculed as totalitarian. From fixing the price of morning cup of milk to setting the limit for night-time business, the government maintains an alarming presence in our lives. The public is obliged to transact with the government and the various public institutions ensure that the citizens have no choice but to do so. However, as a consumer of various public goods the citizen is invariably dissatisfied with the quality of service provided, lending further strength to the criticism of the state as an administrative authority. When we review the functioning of various government-run institutions, it can be observed that of all the factors presumably responsible for an unrewarding state of affairs, poor public-relation skills of the government servants are the most damaging and counter-productive. Be it the public works department, the police or health, forest or revenue departments, the contact of the common man with the government functionary is far from being robust and respectful. The circumstances of the job, the designation of the attendant official, the hierarchical structure of the institution, the administrative acumen of the superior executive, and the intervening influences of culture and society, all prevail at the scene and collectively determine the experience of the citizen while dealing with a public servant. As a rule of thumb, the clerical staff has earned the maximum notoriety for their rawness in public dealings. Triple factors of being under-qualified, over-worked and at the same time being posted at significant and tricky places, make the clerks exceptionally intolerant and discourteous towards the common man. The lower rung officials of police and revenue department follow a close suit. The usual road-side spectacle of a face-off with police or the bee-lines outside revenue offices should suffice to remind us of the ordeal that it means for the man on the street. The relationship between the aggrieved complainant and the police, or the one between the patient or attendant and the doctor, again does not qualify for being called handsome. The examples are galore and the inefficient PR skills of that government servant can be incriminated for the overall mess that various public institutions have become. The problem can be traced back to a wrong notion among the government servants, that they are exclusively responsible to their immediate disbursing authority, without being accountable to the customer – the citizen. And also that the government service is interminable except under extraordinary circumstances, the servant can afford to be lackadaisical in transacting with the public. And also because the organizational behavior of public institutions is more often led by precedent than through the orders of the departmental head, the officials tend to enforce their personal writ on the common man. This coupled with the lack of adequate feed-back mechanism to empower the public for judging the behaviour of government servants makes the matters further inhospitable. The result is procrastination, inordinate delays in file transfer, corruption, public rage and discontent, insufficient output and a defunct public service. The complainant fears going near the police, the patient fights with the doctor, the needy individual bribes the clerk to gain his smile, the pot-holes on common thoroughfare remain unfilled because no one is ready to pay the PWD official from his own pocket, etc. The point is that public-relation skills are an absolute necessity in today’s market-oriented world. The goods in public sector are undoubtedly cheap, except for the cost of one’s dignity. There is an urgent need for public administrator to set the record straight and facilitate an image make-over of the public servants, including teaching PR skills to government employees regularly during on-the-job training. Indeed the need for rationalizing the behavior of government servants has to be emphasized. The public deserves to be treated with dignity and that is perhaps the benchmark which public administrators will have to strive for in earnest.