Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Simplify processes

Ride down any highways, State or National, in Nagaland and you will see market forces in action. There is frantic marketing, negotiating, selling and buying going on. The roads are choked with vendors each epitomizing entrepreneurship, selling a bewildering array of goods. And you begin to wonder, why do our leaders lament the lack of the entrepreneurial spirit in our people? Even the Governor of Nagaland in his Statehood Day message had bemoaned the absence of entrepreneurial spirit in our youth. “It is very important some of our people should set out into entrepreneurship and become job providers rather than job seekers,” he had said. But it can be said that our youth, amidst all the challenges, have been displaying entrepreneurial zeal and taking strides towards progress. Fostering innovative mindset, increasing interest in entrepreneurship is often a catalyst that drives development objectives including growth, employment, and equity. For entrepreneurs to successfully contribute towards the society, however, they need vital resources such as funding, mentoring, human capital of a growth mindset, suitable infrastructure, and supportive government policies. Promoting business at micro, small, and medium levels could nudge economic activity and enhance the skills and potential of the youth whose employment options today are limited. But what makes market activity possible and rewarding for some, but not for others? Why are some markets inclusive and integrated; while others are localized and segmented? As stated, it is true that markets allow people to use their skills and resources and to engage in higher-productivity activities if there are institutions to support these markets – rules, enforcement mechanisms, and organizations supporting market transactions. So far we have seen that successive governments have had to bear the burden of creating and enforcing these rules and organizations, and it has obviously met with very little success. This could be because governance has largely become the preserve of the educated elite, which has largely operated with the principle of exclusion, usually by building a complex web of laws that are beyond the comprehension of the rest of the population. In addition, the bureaucratic structure of the government has made it difficult to enforce and ironically, put the highest burden (time, cost and effectiveness) on people who can least afford them. As is obvious to anyone who has attempted to deal with the government it is a daunting exercise. It is usually simpler to grease a few palms and get the job done, resulting in corruption. No wonder, over the years all this has given rise to institutionalized friction. Clearly, one critical dimension of development is the implementation of less costly and less complex institutional norms. It is imperative that this aspect of governance needs focus both in terms of the demystification of the regulatory processes as well as improving speed, efficiency, consistency and reliability of these processes. The core issue here is the simplification of processes to make them more user-friendly, especially where there is significant citizens’ interface involved. And as we slowly integrate into the global marketplace, there is an even greater need for accountability of government to their citizens. Good governance is increasingly being acknowledged as not only a public good and a citizen’s right (making it an end in itself), but also a necessary factor for economic development. Now, simplification implies good old-fashioned re-engineering of existing processes. This involves examining the existing flow of processes and documents in the regulatory framework and trying to eliminate the non-value added steps or operations in every aspect of governance. This can then be followed up by computerization from electronic storage and retrieval of data (e.g. government records); automating of processes (e.g. land registration) to enabling value-added services (e.g. making property ownership documents available for use as collateral for loans for small businesses). Sure, it might sound a little presumptuous to talk of investments in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in a society which is still unable to provide basic public services to the population, but there is growing awareness that ICT can and should be leveraged to address these very basic issues. There is growing evidence of the tremendous potential for leveraging ICT to improve efficiency of operations of the government, make them more reliable and citizen-friendly. Indeed it is creative applications that can provide the basis for developing the infrastructure of our governing institutions that could in turn, improve transparency and provide the basis for more inclusive and efficient markets.