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`More transparency needed in regulation of services'

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THE role of the private sector in public services in Kerala has continued to expand, which demands that the State assumes more of a regulatory role moored on the basic tenet of transparency.

This has emerged as one of the key implications of a State-wide survey titled `The state of Kerala's public services: Benchmarks for the new millennium', conducted by the Bangalore-based citizen empowerment body, Public Affairs Centre (PAC).

According to Dr Samuel Paul, Chairman, and Dr Suresh Balakrishnan, Executive Director, PAC, it is clear that in healthcare and bus transport, the private sector is already playing a significant role.

This role has continued to expand and has benefited from external remittances into the State. The trends indicate growing public preference for the private provider because of quality and reliability concerns, which is evident even among the very poor. "With growing private provision, what role should the Government take and what issues should it address? No doubt, the regulatory role of the State has to take priority and greater transparency brought into the discharge of this regulatory role," the authors say.

On the other hand, greater attention would need to be paid to monitoring service delivery and gaps in service assessed on a continuing basis.

This would ensure that gaps are addressed through focused interventions in place of incremental efforts to expand existing infrastructure.

Where options are available, it may be more cost-effective to use incentives and support mechanisms and relocating service infrastructure to serve the poor.

The creation of infrastructure such as roads, canals and hospitals are capital-intensive and call for skillsets different from those required to manage the routine delivery of services.

This is most evident in services that require intensive personal attention by the provider and require a different approach to manage.

Healthcare and schools depend a great deal on the skills, incentives and attitudes of the persons who deliver the services.

Systems of human resource management required in these sectors are intrinsically different from that applied in routine administrative Government functions.

The popular expectation that competition among service providers will necessarily improve quality or accountability has been called into question in this study. The reasons, say the authors, are not far to seek.

"Competition works only when the low performers are forced to lose money, jobs or power. This seldom happens in the public sector. Low performers continue to get their budgets and personnel."

Unless the effects of competition are taken into account in the performance evaluation of Government institutions and personnel, it is unlikely that their efficiency and responsiveness to people will change for the better, they add.

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