When all else fails, blame the system

The finance minister’s turn to find a scapegoat

And now, P Chidambaram holds “the failure of the states and the rigid bureaucracy to implement schemes…a major hurdle to inclusive growth”. His is the newest “if only”, joining Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s “if only the bureaucrats were honest”, and Jean Drèze’s “if only there was no tradition of corruption” in explaining why huge outlays don’t translate into outcomes.

Mr. Chidambaram expressed dismay over the continued reliance on failed systems to deliver social sector programmes. “The other area of disappointment is while we expanded outlays and outlined very ambitious programmes, we still depend on largely failed systems to deliver these programmes. … I am not worried about resources. The outlay on education has expanded four times between 2003-04 and 2007-08, but are large outlays translating into outcome in the field?”[The Hindu]

Ah! For a moment, let’s ignore the issue of why such poor outcomes inevitable results of poor policy design. Let’s ask what happened to the UPA government’s honeymoon-era programme to fix the system, reform the bureaucracy and suchlike. Perhaps, like the dog that eats the kindergarteners’ homework, the system failed to deliver this programme too.

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