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The Telegraph
 
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MEASURE FOR MEASURE

Performance is the key to the success of any dynamic organization. This key works for all forms of organizational activity, from team sports to corporate bodies to collectives responsible for governance. There is very little dispute on this point but where theorists of organizational behaviour begin to argue amongst themselves is on the measurement of performance. The matter is not as simple as it initially appears. In complex areas like, say, governance, the assessment of performance becomes thorny. How is the performance of a minister to be judged for example? By the amount of money he has spent? By the number of projects he has initiated? By the number of lives his activity has touched and changed? The measuring rod can vary and there can be arguments, pro and contra, for the measure that is applied. The chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, has chosen a simple measuring device: the amount of money spent by a minister. Using this criterion, she relieved the minister of industries, Partha Chatterjee, of this responsibility. There are two points worth underlining in this decision of Ms Banerjee. One is that for the first time in the history of governance in West Bengal a minister has been removed from a post because of non-performance. Second is the criterion that is being used to assess performance. There could be a case that this is not the best way to measure a minister’s performance. In another context, the amount of money a minister has saved could become a more adequate measuring rod. What is important beyond the arguments on the instrument of measurement is the fact that an open and transparent criterion was used and acted upon.

There is another more profound aspect that demands comment. This decision was possible because in West Bengal today — for good or for bad — decision-making is focused on one individual. Ms Banerjee holds the top job and sees herself as the fount of all policy-making and their implementation. Responsibility begins and ends with her. Fortunately for her, she commands the political majority that permits her to act thus. She is in a position to avoid and bypass some of the obstacles on the path of efficient governance that arise because of the unpredictable process of parliamentary democracy. The latter could throw up a situation where the holder of the top job — be it the chief minister or the prime minister — could enjoy power that is constrained by the absence of a commanding majority and thus have his or her decision-making restricted by the compulsions of coalition politics. That kind of constriction of power is avoided when decisions can be taken by a leader untrammelled by other considerations.

The issues raised in the previous paragraph point to some of the limits of parliamentary democracy and these should prompt political theorists to ponder not just these limits but also on the virtues of a presidential system where decision making is more focused and individual based. The Telegraph merely wants to provoke wiser men to debate these themes.