Mamta Even as the world is moving on to evidence-based policymaking, our country has not yet adopted the practice of assessing government policies regularly and charting the future course of policies accordingly. Despite spending huge sums of money on various schemes and programmes (more than Rs 9 lakh crore on Centrally sponsored and Central sector schemes), we continue to perform poorly on various well-being outcomes. Our dismal ranking on the Human Development Index (130 out of 180 countries), Global Hunger Index (103 out of 119 countries), Happiness report (140 out of 156 countries) and progress on Millennium Development Goals remains unimpressive. It calls for introspection as to why despite having schemes that touch upon every aspect of our countrymen’s lives, we perform poorly on a number of development indicators. Our Constitution provides for checks and balances at various places to make the system of governance transparent and accountable. The need of the hour is to devise a similar framework of checks and balances for government-run schemes and flagship programmes which take the bulk of government’s spend and affect the lives of millions of people. The Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act’s requirement of limiting fiscal deficit to three per cent makes a further case to rationalise public expenditure. We need to work on the implementation of a robust monitoring & evaluation (M&E) framework. In many countries, the need for M&E was provided by a fiscal crisis. We should not wait for that situation, but start working on this issue. The idea of M&E is not new to the Indian context. There have been efforts earlier also to make M&E an integral part of the policymaking by the establishment of such institutions as the Programme Evaluation Organisation and Independent Evaluation Office under the erstwhile Planning Commission. The institution currently assigned with the M&E task is the Development Monitoring and Evaluation Office (DMEO), an attached office of NITI Aayog. Established in 2015, it is in its nascent stage and stands to gain from the experiences of countries which have already established a well-functioning M&E system. Developing a robust M&E system entails strong backing by an agency which can affect the budget allocation of different schemes and ministries. In Australia, Chile and Uganda, the M&E system was supported by the respective ministries/departments of finance. Apart from providing the back support, to fight resistance by ministries and departments, the Ministry of Finance (MoF), along with M&E agency, has to play an active role through carrots (evaluation and advisory support), sticks (influencing budget allocation) and sermons (persistent advocacy by senior officials of MoF), as followed in Australia. Also, the ministries should not only be responsible for spending the money but also be held responsible for achieving outputs and outcomes, decided through developing a logical framework for different schemes in advance. While we argue for strong backing and support by the MoF, it is pertinent to take note of Chile’s experience. In Chile, control over the design and management of M&E by DIPRES (MoF’s budget office) introduced a budget-centred perspective into the M&E system, leading to its limited usability. The M&E agency has to be a decentralised body with technical and managerial autonomy, as is the case with CONEVAL (National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy) of Mexico. International experiences suggest that the success of the M&E framework depends on the utilisation of data, reports and evaluation results by decision-makers in deciding the future course of existing policies, designing new policies and allocating budgets to various schemes. Ensuring greater utilisation requires that the findings of M&E studies are made available to people at large through regular publications. Regular publication of the M&E findings also ensures transparency and helps build confidence in civil society. The usability of evaluation reports also depends on the quality, which can be ensured through involving evaluation experts in the evaluation programmes. This requires the building up of a team of evaluation experts by the agency and also ensuring their independence by making them answerable to a technocrat which requires the M&E agency to be headed by a professional economist. In China, audit is a critical component of M&E, but audit is a post facto exercise. We need to devise a strategy which keeps a system of checks and balances in place along with the implementation stages of the policies so that lessons learnt while implementing flagship programmes and schemes are incorporated simultaneously to achieve better implementation of policies and outcomes. The success of the M&E exercise also hinges upon support by ministries and departments. There might be opposition from ministry heads fearing intrusion in their area of responsibility and, hence, to ensure cooperation from different ministries, they should be made to believe that the performance agenda is to help them manage more effectively rather than a tool for budget cutting. Chile’s M&E system has benefited immensely from learning from its peer countries. It’s time for India to learn from the best and build a citizen-centric system of M&E by collaborating with institutes of repute in the country and abroad. On the monitoring front, the DMEO is working on the output-outcome monitoring framework which entails tracking various ministries and schemes on their achievements in attaining various outputs and outcomes. On the evaluation front also, a grand exercise of third-party evaluation of various Centrally sponsored schemes is under way. The agency has already started to work on its mandate but a long road lies ahead to cover and play its role in making policies more outcome oriented and citizen centric.
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