“[E]very … government office could have the tracking system.”
In The Economist‘s October 18, 2014 “Yes, prime minister” article, Stoa debaters will find an interesting federal electronic surveillance policy. A problem in India and other countries is monitoring government workers who may or may not show up for work. New electronic tracking systems both monitor government employees make that information available to the public:
Last year in Jharkhand state in eastern India Mr Sharma installed a system to track the daily attendance of nearly 14,000 officials. Each day at the office they log in and out by scanning a fingerprint or iris. The data is then published live, online. Taxpayers can even see which civil servants are at work or not.
This system is being expanded from Jharkhand state to the Indian federal government:
Mr Modi has pressed Mr Sharma to do the same for the central government in Delhi. This month Mr Sharma rolled out a website, attendance.gov.in, for 149 departments and 51,000 national civil servants. The effect may seem Big Brotherish, but truancy in the civil service is appalling, and such monitoring is bound to boost attendance and productivity. In time every hospital, state school, court and government office could have the tracking system.
Electronic tracking systems can also monitor those receiving government goods and services:
Both Mr Sharma and his boss think technology can do a lot to lessen rampant corruption. Much of it is in programmes for subsidised food and fuel, which cost the government $41 billion a year. Digital monitoring would certainly bring efficiencies. Again in a test in Jharkhand, ration shops and individuals who get cheap wheat, rice, salt and oil are now being monitored using Aadhaar identities. For example, each time somebody picks up a 35-kilo ration of rice, they digitally scan their fingerprint and record the transaction. Better management of stock and reduced theft should lower “leakage” rates that touch 50% in places.
The debate over the proper role of government in a free society is an important one, but before entering that debate, reformers can take advantage of new technologies that can significantly reduce costs for the programs and policies currently in operation.
Those of us who have enjoyed the British television series “Yes, Minister,” and “Yes, Prime Minister” know there will be significant resistance from across India’s 149 federal departments and 51,000 civil servants.