Friday, December 8, 2023

Poor PR skills

By maintaining exclusive control over the provision of various public goods, the State makes itself indispensable in the lives of its citizens. From fixing the price of morning cup of tea 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. When one 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 Government servants are the most damaging and counter-productive. Be it the public works department, the police or health, forest or revenue department, the contact of the common man with 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 is supposed to be the have 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 of 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 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 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. 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 potholes on common thoroughfare remain unfilled because no one is ready to pay the PWD official from his own pocket, etc. Point is 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. Clearly it is time for our public administrator to set the record straight and facilitate an image makeover of public servants. PR skills should be taught to Government employees regularly. Offices should devise indigenous mechanisms to oversee the conduct of various employees while dealing with the public and keep a continuous check on the unreasonable practices. Complaint cells should be opened in public institutions under a disciplining authority that can deal with officials indulging in anomalous behavior. Government offices must allow the public to adjudicate and ask for their suggestions and appreciation. Well-behaved and skilled officers should be encouraged through incentive and promotion to create good precedents. At the same time stringent punishments should be meted to officials who short-change the public deliberately. The need for rationalizing the behavior of Government servants has to be emphasized. The public deserves to be treated with dignity.