Government Inefficient: McKinsey

McKinsey in Bhutan

Although about 40 percent of the civil service is involved in delivering services to citizens, businesses and agencies, the delivery of services “leaves much to be desired.”

That was one of the diagnoses the international consultant McKinsey and Co made in one of its “discussion documents,” three years ago, soon after they arrived in the country to accelerate socio-economic development.

It found that the 10 ministries, 12 agencies and 20 districts together provided over 200 services, but observed that access of many government to citizen (G-C) were limited to few centralised locations, forcing citizens to travel.

The delivery time or, in McKinsey’s language, the “turnaround time” of these services took long, from a week to 300 days, and resulted in increased cost for availing these services. For example, the cost per capita income for availing construction permits in Bhutan is 150 percent as compared to seven percent in Sri Lanka. There were 4,644 civil servants providing these services to its citizens, most of which were “paper dependent processes.”

While McKinsey helped Bhutan take some of the most availed services online before it left the country, three years on, the “delivery of services” remains still much to be de- sired, according to citizens who access services and civil servants who deliver these services.

The civil servants ratio per 10,000 population is 70 (about 4,500 civil servants) in Bhutan; while, for the same number of population, the ratio of civil servants providing services is 37 in Malaysia; 14 in USA and nine in Germany.

That these service providers or facilitators are those, who are considered “cream of the crop”, for making it to the most preferred choice of job, are not delivering “satisfactory” services has got many asking if civil servants are “really working.”

For if they “really” do, delivery of services would “automatically and drastically” improve, civil servants said.

Why has service delivery not improved, both offline and online?

“Civil servants suffer from a civil service syndrome,” observed a senior civil servant. “There is no willingness to work sincerely.”

Reducing the waiting time for patients at the Thimphu referral hospital, for example, has become a myth, said officials, even though all it would take for hospital officials is to come on time, work sincerely and leave on time.

That perhaps explains why the same person, who “worked hard” to get into the civil service, does not “work as hard” after getting the job.

What “a lot” of civil servants are alleged to be doing in front of their computers is “looking for training opportunities”, or writing proposals or filling up application forms to travel abroad.

So, while McKinsey might have recommended the government to take the most availed services online to improve service delivery, the service, for example, in issuing passports is yet to become efficient.

Unless a “human” fixes the “technical problem” in the databases of the foreign and home ministries, applicants for passports would still be sent to the home ministry to get a paper that certifies the applicant as Bhutanese.

“There’s a human interface involved, so even if services go online, it doesn’t mean delivery will be faster,” a corporate employee said. “Everyone blames the system, but no one knows who the system is,” a civil servant remarked.

The online security system had a huge backlog of applications in July, when some people, who manned the system and processed the applications, took leave or left their jobs.

Some government officials said McKinsey, in one of their presentations, claimed that about 40 – 60 percent of the civil servants may “not be working.” How and on what basis the consultant based this on is not clear or known. “I don’t know what body of evidence they have, but I remember them saying it,” an official, who attended many of the McKinsey’s closed-door meetings, said.

But officials from both the civil service commission and the gross national happiness commission said such “claim” or “finding” by McKinsey is not true even if “there may be an element of truth” in it.

“I think the truth is people aren’t optimally utilised,” a civil service commissioner said. “But then coming up with a figure like that; just see the teachers, who make up 33 percent of the civil service, are they not performing?”

The only exercise that the commission took, that in a way measured the civil servants’ performance, was through a “customer satisfaction” survey that was done with the organisational development (OD) exercise in 2007. Its findings were never made public, because the documents were not “endorsed” by the government. McKinsey was however given access to these documents.

“When you say performance, the thinking is individual performance versus the organisational performance,” the commissioner said. “And those days, there was a thinking that yes, an individual’s performance rating is high but that organisation itself hasn’t been doing well, so there’s going to be a kind of implication on his performance.”

GNHC secretary Karma Tshiteem said McKinsey never came up with such figures. “There’s no such facts and I’d be very careful about demeaning the efforts of people, who’re actually doing quite a lot for very little income,” he said.

The secretary said, he has been to the most remote parts of Bhutan and people, who are “making things work” are the civil servants. “There are always opportunities to utilise people you have more but I think, by any standards, we have good, very dedicated civil servants, and I’d say quite clean com- pared to any other civil service I know,” he said. “If you believe that the direction our country is heading is the right direction, I’d say a large part of it is because of good civil service.”


From KUENSEL on 24 September 2012


This story from KUENSEL

KUENSEL is Bhutan's national newspaper. Founded in 1967, KUENSEL is Bhutan's oldest newspaper.