A globally acknowledged economic phenomenon is that government-run enterprises sacrifice efficiency for equity (or fairness). With the economic conditions changing rapidly across the world (mostly for the worse), it is time that government firms in our country enforce fairness from a business and economics angle too.

In India, it is almost a matter of right for most government workers to not report to work on time, complete their tasks on time or perform their duties properly. On the other hand, it is just the opposite for most workers in the private sector.

Waste of time, resources

The underlying economic concept for such difference in work-related behaviour across public and private firms is ‘incentives”.

It is hard to punish workers in the public sector because of fear of state and nation-wide strikes, and in turn, workers do not have any incentive to adhere to rules. But the cost of taking such behaviour for granted is extremely high in private sector firms.

The question is, whether it is fair on the part of the government to let consumers, particularly, tax-payers, be at the mercy of government workers’ whims and fancies? Even worse, considering the fact that it is primarily through tax-payers money that the same public-sector workers are paid?

The amount of time and resources people waste in obtaining a voter ID, ration card, or marriage certificate — notwithstanding the bribes to be given at almost all levels — is exorbitant, to say the least.

To top it, most people are scared of the treatment meted out to them by the government staff members – for getting done a job they are paid to do.

Meagre pay structure

One of the reasons government workers cite for their poor service and work ethics is low pay. To be fair, while accepting the job offer, didn’t they know what the pay would be?

Moreover, for the attitude and competency level (or lack of it) that many such people possess, how likely are they to be hired by private sector? So in all fairness, shouldn’t they be thankful for having a job in the first place?

In addition, hundreds of thousands of people are unemployed in our country. So isn’t it the responsibility of the government to enforce fairness by ensuring that those who have jobs perform their duties properly?

The government, by not enforcing rules in state and central-run offices, is actually draining tax-payers’ resources. All this only proves that in India (unlike many other countries), there is no trade-off between equity and efficiency in government-operated enterprises because we have both! Inefficiency coupled with unfairness!

Is there at least one government (state or Centre-governed) enterprise that can boast of great service or profit-making ability? Almost every government “servant” in India considers himself (or herself) to be the “master” of all as virtually no accountability is enforced on him or her.

It is sad that such government “servants” consider it below their dignity to “serve” common men, and believe they are above all rules and laws. Is government’s laxity in this regard “fair” to other citizens? If so, then perhaps the word “fairness” has to be redefined.