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Citizen's Charter Measures & Recommendations

By Dr. Forqan Uddin Ahmed
06th-Sep-2020       
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Public services are funded by citizens, either directly or indirectly, and, therefore, people have the right to expect a particular quality of service that is responsive to their needs and which is provided efficiently at a reasonable cost. The Citizens' Charter is a written, voluntary declaration by service providers that highlights the standards of service delivery that they must subscribe to, availability of choice for consumers, avenues for grievance redressal and other related information. It is a useful way of defining with stakeholder involvement, the nature and quality of service delivery. In other words, a Citizens' Charter is an expression of understanding between the citizens and the service provider about the nature of services that the latter is obliged to provide.
The Citizens' Charter programme was first launched in 1991 in the U.K. as part of a series of initiatives aimed at enhancing standards of service delivery and making governance more transparent and accountable. The influenced several countries such as Belgium, France, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Spain, Portugal, India etc. to adopt similar measures. The progress of adopting Citizens' Charter in India began with Conference of Chief Secretaries of all States and Union Territories' held in 1996 on "Effective and Responsive Administration." This conference gave high priority to Citizens' Charters and was followed by the development of an "Action Plan for Effective and Responsive Government" at a similar conference in 1997. One of the major decisions taken at this forum was to introduce Citizens' Charters in the Departments of the Central and State Governments, especially those that had a large public interface such as the Railways, Telecom, and Public Distribution.
In 2000, the Public Administration Reform Commission (PARC) of Bangladesh recommended introduction of citizens' charter in a number of public agencies. In June 2007, the caretaker government (CTG) asked all ministries to formulate citizens' charters. Following this order, all ministries and most of the public agencies have already formulated citizen's charters. However, the initiative has not yet been proved to be successful due to a number of flaws. Firstly, people's participation in formulation of the charters has not been ensured. As result, the charters failed to reflect the expectation of the citizens, i.e. the service recipients.
Unlike many other countries, Bangladesh government did not give its own definition of a citizens' charter or the objective of the initiative. Consequently, there is a lack of understanding across the civil service as far as citizens' charter is concerned. All ministries and a large number of public agencies undertook the initiative without previous experience. The initiative was not piloted in a smaller number of agencies to gather experience. No specific body has been assigned to coordinate the whole initiative. The people who were supposed to implement the charter were not involved in the process, and there was no effort to build their capacity regarding citizens' charter. The charters have not been publicized adequately. Even some staff members of respective ministries/agencies are ignorant about their own departmental charter. There is no system in place to monitor whether the performance of an agency is in conformity with the charter, and evaluate if the charter is in line with clients' expectations. Charters for local level agencies should have been formulated locally through the participation of local people, but were formulated at the central level by the senior staffs. As a result, those charters neither reflect the expectation of the local people nor are they owned by the local administration. In case of some services, there is only a service specific generic citizens' charter and no institution specific charter, which, indeed, is more important. Due to the above-mentioned conceptual and procedural problems, the charters formulated so far have failed to bring any remarkable change in public service delivery. Even the charter documents have serious shortcomings.
In order to make the citizens' charter initiative successful, the government should take necessary measures based on international experience and considering the context of the country:
 A particular agency (regulatory body) should be assigned to coordinate the whole initiative.  The government should ask the ministries to give more emphasis on the formulation of institution specific charters rather than service specific charters. Instead of introducing citizens' charter in all public agencies at one time, the government should start with a few agencies with large public interface, such as hospitals, railway stations, passport offices etc. One or two agencies can be selected for exemplary implementation of citizens' charter so that they can be models for others. A taskforce should be formed in each agency in order to formulate a citizens' charter or modify the existing one. Representation of clients and cutting edge staff must be ensured in the taskforce. To mobilize people in the citizens' charter process and publicize the charters widely, the government may work in collaboration with NGOs, civil society organizations and community-based organizations. For successful implementation of the charters, capacity building of cutting edge staff is crucial. Capacity building initiatives like training, seminars, workshops etc. should be organized on a regular basis.
Governmental training institutes like BPATC, BARD, NILG, JATI and the Police Academy should incorporate citizens' charter in their training curricula. A training manual can be developed for this purpose. Performance appraisal of the staff can be linked with citizens' charter of the agency concerned. A special budget should be earmarked for the citizens' charter initiative.
Before its implementation nationwide civil servants reformative commission was mandatory. Moreover for overhauling the administrative mechanism Ministry wise reformation commission is also necessary. For check-recheck and good balancing proper scrutiny by the interdepartmental and intradepartmental performance evaluations Commission need to be formed strong and effective citizen's charter.
Former Deputy Director General

(Dr Forqan is a writer, columnist and researcher).

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