Musings for a responsible society

Amidst the dark and grey shades increasingly engulfing, invading and piercing deeper and deeper, let me try to enjoy the little smiles, genuine greens, and the gentle breeze. Oh! Creator! If you don't exist, my vain!
All contents in this blog are subjected to copy right and no part of any of the articles may be reproduced in any media without prior written permission

Search This Blog


Citizens beware! The new private bureaucrats, the crime, the corruption and the red-tapism

For many years, we blamed the government and the government organizations for being inefficient, complex and corrupt. We adored Max Weber for appropriately applying the word bureaucracy and spoiled the reputation of this nomenclature by attributing to anyone and anything that are adamant, stoic, apathetic and irresponsive. Inevitable regulatory system imprisoned the government officials inside an iron cage giving them peanuts. But the smarties lavishly feasted encashing on the nuances and nuisances of the laws and ever expanding procedures, thanks to the voluntary and involuntary paperweights (read as hot cash) kept on the hopeless files by both hapless and dishonest citizens. Scholars, politicians, senior bureaucrats, media and the civil society angels loudly professed: No hope, no salvation, and no atonement – for and from the corrupt bureaucratic system.

But the neocolonial policy experts, public intellectuals and multinational policy advising entities researched hand-in-hand and invented a prescription: Privatize, de-regulate, merge, acquire, and spread out.

What is the result?

Let me start with the brighter side:
It paved way for many players who were waiting for an opportunity to get the large business share hitherto monopolized by the government. Competition resulted in ensuring quality, cheaper rates, and accountability. The ambitious, greedy and aspiring middle class in third world countries got what they craved for: to live the life of a first world citizen while unfortunately destined to be born in a wretched third world.

And what is the darker side?
To know this, one need not look at any empirical studies. (In fact, there is hardly anyone who would like to research on this now!) Just look at our experiences rather than giving a complex theoretical discourse delivered by policy experts or intimidating statistics frequently displayed by economists.


One simple ‘everyday life’ example from the bottom

You are a subscriber to the most essential service of the day: a phone or internet connection. You have a grievance to be settled. You approach the large, mighty, sophisticated, automated, cosy, pretty, and articulate service provider. You find that the polite voice on the other end cannot understand your pulse. The replies are disseminated from a stock of frequently needed answers. Each time you remind about the unsettled grievance, you are with a different person. You do not know where to go next. You are not allowed to explain your problem in plain and simple human language. No access to the huge structures guarded by private security guards. No awareness about the hierarchical structure. Even when you are fortunate to get a soul to interact, the response would be, ‘I don’t have the mandate’ or ‘this is the Standard Operating Procedure’, or ‘I am sorry, I can’t help’, or ‘register your complaint at Interactive Voice Response System once again’. You encountered with the new face-less private bureaucracy.

You were happy when you were told that many services hitherto provided by the mighty government have been contracted to be done by private players who have quoted the lowest rates in the tenders. Only the large entities could afford to quote lower rates. Cartelisation, predatory pricing and anti-competitive mergers and acquisition destroyed the fairness in allocating the resources and work of the public sector to the private players. They outsourced these contracts to smaller players who did not have the capacity and resources to execute the work. You found the same old ‘bureaucratic’ delays coupled with data thefts, corruption, and lack of accountability among those private providers. Some examples of criminal opportunities:  the promoters can exploit the resources with scant regard to sustainability, people can get multiple PAN numbers, criminals can get cell phone connections without any documents or by giving fake documents, vendors can circumvent standard postal procedures and can transport contraband, thieves can get into secure offices with the connivance of private security guards. These are just a few generic examples.

Why all these happen in a large private environment? a) Profit motive is predominant than service motive, b) The tendency to sub-contract the work to make more profit, c) Lack of monitoring of quality of the sub-contractor, d) Frequent attrition among the employees and lack of long-term loyalty, e) Lower risks for the mischief makers as they can vanish from the company before being caught and punished, f) When the company practices are perceived to be unethical, the employees also tend to be dishonest and selfish, e) Inadequate  government regulations to monitor the affairs in a liberalized environment, etc.

Apart from the above inefficiency in large private sector companies, most of these entities are marred by internal corruption. Managers at each level engage in deals that satisfy their personal interests. However only a few cases are reported to the police as there are no clear rules to punish the corrupt executives for financial crime committed within a private company. To safeguard the reputation, corporate managements let off these criminals with just an expulsion from the company. Businessmen and traders have many stories to tell about how they had to please the managers at various levels in a large firm to get into a business with the company.

Governments were quick to understand the corporate inefficiency and corruption and consequently established ombudsmen, sector regulators, and enacted various corporate governance legislation. However none of these initiatives have curbed the problems mentioned above.

The real reason: The problem of ‘Large’
Policy experts and technocrats dumped E F Schumacher’s concept of ‘Small is Beautiful’ many years back. But all the problems we face in the name of ‘bureaucratic inefficiency’ are the contribution of the ‘Large’. It is proved from the bitter experiences we have from the large private sectors that inefficiency, red-tapism and corruption are not the exclusive attributes of Government, but necessary fallout of any large, complex and non-transparent system.

What is the solution?

The solution lies only in creating small, independent, and responsible units within the existing large structures, whether it is in government or in private sector. Each unit should be given delegated powers based on the unique attributes and should be accountable for its operational decisions. There should be human interface in these units so that services are provided and grievances are redressed based on the needs and requirements rather than universal procedures. Technological interface should not undermine the genuine need for human interaction to find a satisfying solution to a problem.

Privatization and deregulation are irreversible. These processes need to continue. However governments cannot abdicate their responsibilities to ensure fairness, transparency and public welfare. Similarly, large firms cannot continue in an outsourcing and delegating process without ensuring quality and efficiency.It is imperative to have a stringent law to curb corruption in private sector and to make it mandatory for the private sector management to report the criminal incidents of internal unlawful acts to law enforcers. Regulators and ombudsmen need to establish their field arms to monitor compliance to regulations rather than be armchair watchdogs. Both statutory auditors, internal auditors and the Audit committees need to be proactive and should be made accountable for their laxities in reporting irregularities not only in financial affairs but also in security issues and consumer affairs.  Strict penalties may be imposed on all acts of corporate corruption, ethical failures, and procedures that are against public interest.

In short, we need to go back the concept of ‘Small is Beautiful’ to get rid of the ghost of Max Weber and his iron caged bureaucracy that has reincarnated as corporate bureaucracy. 

                                                                         © Sibichen K Mathew

Views are personal. Comments are welcome

Read my other articles on related topic

Frauds, Scams and a Corporate Lokpal



You can be a true historian by going back to your roots

When did you patiently converse for long duration with your grandparents, grand uncles and aunts or your relatives who are in their Eighties and Nineties? 

We should be seriously thinking of preserving the oral traditions. Oral history is a more reliable and unbiased source than the books to know the finer details of the family traditions, social life and customs of yesteryears. (We know for sure how most of our history books are written. They boldly and shamelessly label themselves as rightist, leftist or centrist and give a coloured picture! That too, by using public funds!) 

In short, start conversing with our grandparents, grand uncles and grand aunts. Record what they say about their childhood. (Before their memories get faded further and they leave this beautiful world)

In conversation with my Grandma's Sister

My Grand Uncle has so much to say about the colonial India

Here below, read a memoir based on a not-so-typical conversation of a grandson to his grandma:

“When will grandpa come for lunch?” I, the grandson asked an  innocent question to  grandma.

“Who knows for sure when he would come! Do you think your grandpa converses and shares with his wife, like other husbands?”

Indeed, a difficult question to be answered by a 12 year old.

She continued:
‘Don’t you know how much I suffer? No other woman would have tolerated a husband like this. Life goes on because of Ammachi’s patience and tolerance beyond limits of the earth.’

‘Grandma, why do you say that? Grandpa is really a very loving person!’ I used to retort.

‘Mon, what do you know about your Grandpa? He is such an actor! He calls for sympathy from all his children and siblings. He likes to portray me as a horrible lady before everyone. Who brought up all his children and took care of their needs? Who saved money and took charge of the children’s education and maintenance of the house? He never appreciates my wise and frugal home management. My brothers support my family because of their love, affection and sympathy for their sister, who is unfortunately destined to live with an indolent man.’

‘But Ammachi, I see Grandpa bringing lots of goodies home. He buys the biggest fish in the market and brings unniyappam and bonda (sweets from the tea shop) for us. He gets us oranges and black grapes when he goes to Kottayam (nearest town).’

‘Do you think that these are great things? Does he ever buy groceries promptly without me yelling at him and after several reminders?

‘And the big fish that you talk about! Don’t you know what time he brings that fish full of flakes and bones? At 11 O’clock, at night. And this poor Ammachi has to spend the whole night to clean it up!’

‘Only Grandpa does that for you, no? I have seen him cleaning and cutting the fish so meticulously?’

‘Not always, my dear. Even then, who cooks it? He wants both fish curry and fish fry for his dinner, the very night itself. And you said about him bringing oranges and grapes from Kottayam. That is another joke which I will tell you later. Let me check if the rice is ready or not’. 

She looked at the sun’s rays on the veranda and said  it is 12 noon now. And  rushed to the kitchen.

On the way she murmured, ‘He will come hungry, now. Let me prepare his favourite chutney with the raw mangoes he brought yesterday’

Grandma's grievances against her husband were never ending. As her children refused to hear the oft repeated grumblings and complaints, she found a new breed of patient listeners, in her grand children. She felt really relieved after sharing the stories of her difficult life with your husband. She didn’t mind the age of the grand children who listened. She believed that anybody above 8 years can very well appreciate her genuine grievances and the efficiency and that they can be clearly convinced about her husband’s irresponsible behaviour in the family. 

Grandma continued medicines for cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes, for more than four decades. She identified each tablet by their colours and never missed even a single dose of medicine in her life. As in case of her favourite brands of soap, talcum powder, body oil, hair oil and face cream, she stocked medicines for the next two months, in her custody. 

She used to remind her husband to buy her medicine, then her children and in the later years, also her daughters-in-law. Stocks are ordered to be delivered at different timing so that one person will not get a chance to know that another one has already supplied the same set of medicines. That was her way of ensuring uninterrupted supply of medicines. Same was the case of Asanaviluadi oil (for hair), Dhanyantwaram kuzhambu (body oil), Cuticura talcum powder, Nivea face cream and Pears transparent soap. I wonder if this practice was a result of her apprehension after reading about the Great Bengal Famine of 1943. 

I truly wondered how scrupulous she was in selecting the right brand of rice for meals. She used to ask grandpa to bring rice samples home, before buying a sack of rice. She would look at and feel each grain on her palm and then would give a nod if that brand had to be brought. Sometimes she would cook it, to see if it takes a long time to get cooked. (This meant consumption of more firewood). I remember occasions where grandpa violated her directions, resulting in my grandma sending back the entire sack of rice to the grocery shop.

How did she transform Grandpa into a quiet cat at home? A man who served the Indian Army, who had a large network of friends and clients while practicing as a freelance law assistant, preferred a low profile at home. Grandma was a towering personality and had made lasting impressions with her unique attitudes and perceptions about life.

  • Jyoti MadhavanNaheed SulthanaMurali Krishnamurthy and 46 others like this.

  • Dibakar  After we finish our talk....i used to record such talks first on paper and then on my PC...this way I could get a good structure of my family...enlarged and joint...for nearly 412 years.....

  • Sibichen Mathew Excellent Dibakar Sir

  • Sibichen Mathew Today's formal school system has killed the creativity of children. This is the age and stage of life when they should ideally spend more of their time with parents, grandparents and relatives, not to hear their yelling, but to hear from them about their life. Unfortunately, conversations with elders are last in the agenda while they compete, recreate and e-chat in an abusive learning environment.

  • Samir well said, sibichen..

  • Nirmala · Friends with Latha Sateesh and 10 others
    well said sir, but we parents are also to be blamed. our children are given high tech gadgets and dey prefer fast communication instead of slow speech by grand parents. High tym we bring our elder members of the family and start living with them. This may have a better effect on children than talking to them about how to behave with elders. Or else, our kids wont have tym to talk to us also 

  • Vibhu Very well said Sibi...

  • Devojyoti  true

  • Pattu Raj very true. I like that. When I meet older people, I try. I encourage them to recall their childhood days.

  • Pattu Raj Please blog about your interactions with the older generation.

  • Sibichen Mathew Excellent habit Pattu Raj

  • Pattu Raj Sadly I dont have any in the family. Outside, people take time to open up:-(

  • Sibichen Mathew Pattu Raj You can see a sample here. May not be a historical sketch But a little bit on the basis of the conversation.

  • Pattu Raj I have a blogger friend who is past 80. she writes about her life, Nepal, her grandparent etc.. Simply full of affection. Sadly she writes in Tamizh!
    ஆன்டி பயோடிக் இல்லே. ஆன்டிப்ளாஸ்டின் இருந்தது. இப்போது மாத்திரைகளை நிறுத்திவிட்ட...

  • Thyagaraj Sure sir, I enjoy conversing with great uncles and great aunts.

  • Raghvendra  · 5 mutual friends

  • Sony Valid observations. AGREE

  • Latha very true sir. believe me my grandmother (father's mother) is 98 with all faculties intact. whenever i c her in Chennai and talk to her she is so full of energy, face lit up and so eager to talk to me and more so to my daughter who is actually her great grandchild. she has so much to tell and keeps blessing me in her own sweet trembling voice and words. she keeps telling me that she would like to drive down to Bangalore and spend time with me, unfortunately she is extremely frail to carry on with this long journey

  • Sibichen Mathew How they love this beautiful world Latha even at this age. May God bless her with good health till the time she leave.

  • Ashok · 22 mutual friends
    At times, we wonder why such brilliant thoughts do not occur to us ? Truly we do not ponder the way you do Sir ! There is a peculiar karishma about the old age ! the grand parents who have faced and fought the world side by side and became aged together are frequently found alike in appearance in pitch and even tone of voice. They have become old and also became wise at the same time. Preserving oral traditions is essential and rewarding chapter in the great art of living . It is also a message to the grand parents that we respect you your experience is precious to us . Kudos to you sir for posting a gem of a wisdom ( written by a GEM indeed and GEM in deed )

  • Sibichen Mathew Thanks a lot Ashokji for your very valuable observations

  • Ashok · 22 mutual friends
    Not at all sir ! On the contrary thanks to yr power of thought which triggered a series of comments flowing ! ...and still continue to flow.!....agar sach kahoonto ' SAWAAL BHI AAP, AUR JAWAAB BHI AAP !"

  • Latha well i would like say that, i take pride from the fact that i came from a joint family and till today my parents and to some extent me, stay connected to many elders ( above 75 ) at home. moreso, the elders on my husbands side are more close to me that they could be to his side of the family. as parents it is a must to advise encourage teach the value of the elders' presence in our lives and at home. small bickerings or cribbings are bound to happen due to age and technology gap but none of these can beat their levels of experience in life. WE MUST AND RATHER SHOULD MAINTAIN A BALANCE IN THE FAMILY AND STILL BRING A SMILE ON THEIR FACES MAKING THEM FEEL IMPORTANT AND AN INSEPARABLE PART OF OUR LIVES. coz its no point regretting once they depart this world. in fact we are blessed to have them in our lives.

  • Jayakrishnan sibichen, The same thought came up in my mind some time ago and I made small recordings with of oral history from my father.his childhood memories of Cochin State and Malabar, Today even after his absence I cherish them. Another area of stress to be given by us is authentic ethnic cooking. Each mother is a queen of the kitchen and their recipies are becoming endangered due to our craving for the so called fast and junk foods. I am trying to collect the recipies of mothers who are good cooks. ( I started with my mother and insisted and trained Priya to cook in the palakkadan style and succeed well).

  • Sibichen Mathew Excellent effort Jayakrishnan. I am sure, the future generation will get immensely benefited from your work

  • Sibichen Mathew I fully agree with you Latha

  • Murali This has become a rare event. it is absolutely right, we can learn n know more by conversation with our elders. FOR WHICH ONE SHOULD LEAVE THEIR EGO AND DO SO.

  • Ashok · 22 mutual friends
    The essence and beauty of Sibichen Sir's post are: 'QUESTIONS' flow from his 'THOUGHTS' and 'THOUGHTS' flow from 'QUESTIONS' !!

  • Sibichen Mathew Well said Murali

  • Ramkumar it is true sir


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...