Failure of an appraisal system

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Failure of an appraisal system

The 360-degree feedback system, a tool for elevation of officers, might have been successful in the corporate world, but it is bound to create chaos, anarchy and arbitrariness in Government machinery

The introduction of 360-degree appraisal system in the country has created widespread resentment among Government servants. This system, which was prevalent in the corporate world, was introduced in Government systems in April 2016, by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) for the appraisal and promotion of officers from joint secretary rank. The reason why the Government opted to bring this poor, cut and paste 360-degree appraisal system in Government mechanism, is an intriguing question because it already had a well-defined, legally valid  appraisal system, like the Annual Confidential Report (ACR), now known as the Annual Performance Appraisal Report (APAR).

Terming the newly inducted 360-degree appraisal system as opaque and non-transparent, a recent report by the Parliamentary Standing Committee said that this system, which is used for promotion of higher officials, lacks legal standing and results in manipulations. The report, recently tabled in the monsoon session of Parliament, observed that this system, used in the corporate world, is not at all suitable in a Government mechanism as inputs for appraisal of officers are collected in informal ways and are, therefore, subjective.

“The committee finds the present 360-degree appraisal system opaque, non-transparent and subjective. The concerns of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission have not been suitably addressed. Feedback in this process is obtained informally, making the process susceptible to being manipulated. Further, the feedback received from subordinates and stakeholders may be biased and lack objectivity, particularly if the officer had to discipline his subordinates or he was unable to meet the unjustified demands of stakeholders.”

Further, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personal, Public Grievances, Law and Justice in its 33-page report said, “Acting on feedbacks so received puts the concerned officer in a disadvantageous position as the remedies available to him in case his APAR/ACR has not been written objectively, are not available to him in this process. Acting on such feedback behind the back of the officer may not be legally tenable, particularly if it adversely affects his empanelment prospectus. Moreover, there is no statutory backing to the scheme and it is based on executive instructions only. The Committee, therefore, impresses upon the Government to take necessary steps to make the process of empanelment more objective, transparent and fair.”

The introduction of the 360-degree appraisal system has literally sidelined the current ACR/APAR system. Apart from APAR, the 360-degree appraisal, collected through informal ways, is seen as a huge problem in the bureaucracy. In the 360 system, information and appraisal of an officer is collected from juniors, retired senior officials and other stakeholders. Many associations of officials have raised their voices against this kind of system practiced in private companies.

The committee report, on several occasions, pointed out that the 360 degree appraisals system is not at all suitable for the Government machinery. The DoPT under the PMO implemented this new mechanism along with the mandatory APAR/ACR for the empanelment of joint secretaries and above level officers. This new mechanism was not at all appreciated by officers due to its informal way of collection of feedback about them from their juniors, retired officials and even from private persons. There were criticism on the part of officers that even anonymous complaints during their promotion time were considered as feedback.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee, headed by Congress leader and MP, Anand Sharma, pointed out that due to the informal and non-legal nature, officials have been deprived of remedies when feedbacks are found negative in the 360 degree appraisal system. It also said that the method of collecting feedback from stakeholders, like from private parties, about an official, is totally ambiguous and not suitable in a Government mechanism.

Since April 2016, this informal way of gathering information about officers is being used for appraisal and promotion of officers belonging to the All India Civil Services and Union Government’s Group A services.

But the reason why such an illegal way is being implemented in a Government machinery has not yet been answered. There have been only informal replies or justification from top echelons in the Government that this new 360 degree appraisal system is a success in the corporate world. However, the so-called success in the corporate world is a bogus claim. We are now witnessing the dark side of the corporate world. There have been murky battles in Tata and Infosys. These battles in private business houses have exposed the fact that merit is not the key, and that for the powerful man/woman, loyalty matters the most.

But the question is: Why did the Government adopt this non-transparent way for appraisal at all? Actually, the Government machinery uses the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and other vigilance reports for appraisal and promotion of senior officers. The reports of IB and vigilance are treated as informal ways and this system is not subject to legal scrutiny and is hence found to be very efficient.

Then what is the use of another new informal system called the 360 degree appraisal system which has no legal value and no sanctity? Another excuse cited by the Government for using this kind of system is that it is being used in countries like the UK, the European Union and also Australia. But these kind of excuses are not sufficient to practice a system which lacks legal validity.

The secrecy in the process of 360 degree appraisal is not at all justifiable. The officers must have the right to know how the appraisal mechanism works. The continuation of this system will ultimately open floodgates of litigations in Central Administrative Tribunals and various other courts.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee observed that “there is an element of subjectivity” in this process. “Also, there would be an element of fear as peer and subordinates will also be consulted under 360 degree evaluation. The 360 degree evaluation system, which overrides the assessment based on APAR system, needs to be transparent. Officers not recommended by the 360 degree evaluation panel should be told the reason and they should get a chance to represent before the empanelment decision is finalised,” said the panel report, urging for transparent guidelines and legal framework for 360 degree appraisal system.

After all, what is its relevance in collecting information from junior officers and retired officials? In this new system, information is expected to be collected from five to seven persons, including private persons. Seeking information from private parties named as stake holders, linked to the Government, about an officer is not at all a suitable method.

What is the meaning of a stakeholder? Private contractors associated with the Government or private persons engaged with Government offices? This will in-turn turn out to be a tool to settle scores in the end if information collected from private parties. At the end of the day the 360 degree appraisal system will create chaos, anarchy and arbitrariness in the Government machinery.

(The writer is a Special Correspondent, The Pioneer)

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