Thursday, August 2, 2012

Is Corruption All? : A Look into the Real World Problems in Government Offices

There seems to be a consensus on the idea that all problems that we face in our governmental system is due to corruption. This anecdote might help you see some other complicated and routine sides of the "efficiency" issue of our offices.

My dad is a medical officer, and he told me this story last night.

If you go to his Community Health Centre (a small hospital with a few doctors, in-patient facility and operation theater, and just over 20 rooms) you'll find 3 rooms fully filled with old tablets.
To know where these came from you need to know a bit about the way tablet distribution works. The government orders a huge amount of tablets from companies, and distributes it to each government hospitals of the state according to their need (mostly freely). This need is calculated by multiplying the number of doctors working there with the number of tablets they prescribe. So, in dad's CHC it'd be, say, 7 * 300 per month (like for ORS, 10 packets are easily given away per day). And the government gives 2100 ORS packets. Now, 3-4 doctors go on leave. And so, no matter how many people get diarrhoea, there'd be an excess of at least 1000 packets in stock. And then these get expired. Laws are that 6 months before expiry date the pharmacist must distribute these to needy organizations like orphanages. But there's so much of about-to-expire tablets that when he asks the organizations whether they need tablets, they ask the same question in reply. And the pharmacist keeps them with him safely. Let's assume this kind of loss is minimized by asking only around 1000 packets from the government.
But there's another problem. If in any hospital of the state any tablet is found sub-standard, a committee sees to it and blocks the distribution of tablets of that batch number throughout the state. And these kind of sub-standard batches occur every year. Since the tablets are costly, the pharmaceutical company is written a letter informing the defect and reimbursement is asked for. After a month, the company doesn't send any reply. Another letter is sent as a reminder. No reply. (And sometimes these letters are not sent at all. Companies could bribe clerks at the office to prevent the letter being sent) Now, a registered letter is sent. No reply to that either. And then, everyone forgets about the matter. And back at the hospitals, the pharmacist is left with a whole batch of tablets that he can't distribute because they're of low quality, can't burn/dump because he needs to return them in case the company decides to reimburse and asks for the tablets.

Thus, hospitals get filled up with tablets.

Whom do we blame now? If the Lokpal bill had been introduced whom would we want hung?

This is just that kind of a cumulative error which Nedumudi Venu points out to the court in the movie Anniyan and gets laughed at. Errors for which you cannot blame a single person.

And it happens because human beings are not machines. Human beings are, well, humans. They make mistakes. And our rules do not make a differentiation between humane errors and human greed. It doesn't matter whether you do something slightly wrong because you're stupid or because you're corrupt. In fact there's no "slight" wrong before the rule. And that's machine logic. 1 or 0. Corrupt or pure. That's not how human beings are. Human beings can  be something in between.

No, I'm not blaming the legislature. Because to codify the various processes, the algorithm by which we decide what is right, what is wrong and what is in between, is equivalent to designing artificial intelligence. You can't do that.

And that's why we have courts! Courts are rules with a human interpreter. In fact judges are allowed to interpret rules. They decide who's wrong, who's right and who's slightly wrong, by applying human intelligence.

So, why do we have corruption though we have courts. Because courts are slow. Not all cases reach courts. Not everyone gets to present their cases fairly before justice.
And if we try to hasten, the decisions could become inaccurate. If we try to expand, the average intelligence of the judiciary might go low - it takes years of experience to become a judge, that's because you learn to apply non-extremist, non-digital (non 1 or 0) logic to questions, and it takes people years to learn that (or for others to be sure they've learned that).

But it's not just the courts that are slow or inefficient. Offices, officers, administrators, organizers, chairpersons, presidents. Anyone could be inefficient. Because just occupying a government seat doesn't automatically make a man superman. He's the same adolescent turned young man turned adult who has all the follies, imperfections of a human. He will make mistakes when work becomes tedious for him. He will make the wrong choices when presented with too many choices.

And where we go wrong is when we think that forcing them to do the right, putting pressure on them to perform will make them do the right. It may or may not. But I know something that has a better chance for working. And that's technology. Sure there are things that cannot be modernized. But still, we've not yet achieved that much which we can. The GoI is definitely taking the right steps by implementing UID and related projects. That's just a start. Everyone, every office, could benefit from technology. And it's the software engineers, IT professionals, etc who can identify these areas. Funny that I didn't start writing this post with this intention. But I suppose, if you're an engineer, and you've been told that a career in medicine or administration is the best way to serve the people, well you've been misinformed. You have the key to the solutions of our 20th century problems.

And I'm just trying highlight human imperfections that need to be corrected not with stricter rules, but with productivity tools.

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Harikrishna Varrier said...

True buddy..These are the basic problems of being a Democracy... the best thing we can do to speed up things are to automate procedures which can be automated...

Harikrishna Varrier said...

One more thing.. pls remove the word verification in comment section... Its really annoying :) :P...

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