Secret to smart government
President Ts.Elbegdorj convened a national consultative meeting titled “From a Big Government to a Smart Government” two weeks ago. The meeting, which was nationally broadcasted live on television, was an important, thought-provoking occasion that audaciously raised the deep-seated, serious issues that have grown inside the government for many years. The discussions during the meeting gave us more hope that our country would have a better, healthy tomorrow.
The President clearly summed up the successes and failures of the government of Mongolia. He also gave a unique, explicit outlook on what has to be done in order to fix the government and bring economic growth. If Mongolians manage to implement the resolution to issues discussed during the event, development of the country will undoubtedly move up a rank. However, the biggest challenge the government faces today is whether it is actually capable of bringing about such change and who would solve the existing problems in what manner and sequence.
President Elbegdorj outlined what he felt was an incorrect manner of thinking in Mongolia.
“The government is everywhere, the government decides everything. Accountability is not a big deal and it is something we can get away with. The one who becomes an official can act as s/he pleases. Research and theory do not matter if you have experience. An election program must only be pleasing to the voters. The government must own assets, because if they do not, others will benefit. ‘Today’ rather than ‘tomorrow’ is the only important thing.” He went on to strongly criticize that the only time politicians actually gave a thought about their voters was during the election and they would only care about themselves on any other day.
Although the President gave an explicit description of the current reality of the big government Mongolia has, he did not talk much about the underlying cause of the problem. A disease can only be cured when there is a correct examination of the patient’s current condition, and also an accurate diagnosis of the cause of the disease.
President Elbegdorj defined “smart government” as a combination of skilled people, technological advancements, research, and laws. It would take relatively little time to reform the government’s governance if he pointed out specifically which of the factors mentioned above preceded the others, and which would have to be changed first. The answers to these two questions are tied to one issue, that is the leadership crisis faced by the Mongolian government today.
According to Constitutional Law, the state is formed by the legislative, executive and judiciary branches. These three branches are supposed to be independent from each other and mutually complementary. In order to have a good, smart government, there must be good, smart people in the higher levels of governance. Regardless of good constitutional law, a country can enter into havoc if their government is not capable of, or fails to demonstrate its leadership and duties. When this happens, the people might go on a public protest, opposing the government and, in some cases, it could result in a revolution that replaces the government.
A good government starts from a good person. It is hard to imagine a smart government without smart people in it. Are the most skilled Mongolians currently working for the government? If not, why? What criteria are used to appoint a minister in the government? What leadership qualities are considered by political parties when they prepare their candidates for elections? What qualities, skills and knowledge do the people in our government have today?
Our country needs to strengthen its government structure. However, even if we come up with the best system possible, we will need leaders who can conduct good management of the system. This is where the “helicopter view” comes in. The term was first used by Royal Dutch Shell Company to describe a leader who can rise above others to see the bigger picture while being able to distinguish between the smallest parts.
In order to identify leaders with the helicopter view, we must carefully determine their ability to assess reality, their vision, imagination, leadership qualities, and energy. A good leader should not only possess required knowledge but also be able to match his actions and words, and be fully dedicated to what he is supposed to do. We have to know exactly what characteristics a leader has and what his motivation is, because the smarter a person is, the greater harm he is capable of inflicting on society.
Skills and salary of ministers
Highly developed countries such as Japan, have developed a system that is aimed at identifying leaders with the helicopter view and preparing them for higher positions by assigning small to big responsibilities from the early stages of their development. Even Mongolia had a similar system in the socialist era. A leader must be highly disciplined, mentally and physically, and be able to make the best decisions without panicking in the toughest of situations.
Keeping that in mind, if you look at how the Mongolian government is managed today, you will be able to see with great ease that our government actually is huge, but not smart. It has been many years since our government started appointing inexperienced people as public servants, after making the decision based on where they come from rather than what professional abilities they possess. Relevant ministers must be responsible for their actions. The initiative to have our public service recruit their employees based on skills and merit has not progressed. Four out of 21 governors of all Mongolian provinces are currently under investigation by the Independent Authority Against Corruption. Weren’t the best of Mongolia supposed to be working for the government?
After identifying, preparing and appointing a skilled leader, it has to be made sure that they are retained. One of the important conditions that makes an employee stay at his job is his salary. Some countries use carefully developed salary systems to determine how much a minister should be paid. On the other hand, some countries just adopt salary levels from their private sector. For example, since 1995, Singapore has set the salary of a minister at the same rate as the highest paid CEO in its banks, plants, accounting agencies, engineering companies, law firms, and multinational corporations.
The secret to a smart government is smart leaders. It is time to start checking whether the current leaders who are managing the main organizations and units of the government are doing their job smartly, and bringing about change. When appointing someone to a higher position, there should be much bigger, more significant criteria than the type of political party affiliations the chosen candidate might have. As long as a minister is a smart leader, it is irrelevant which political party they are a member to.
Senior positions inside the government (including a minister’s position) should have revised responsibilities and requirements. Also, there ought to be a system that selects and prepares the required personnel and provides them with a salary rate that is based on their performance. This is where we should begin transforming a big government into a smart government. Otherwise, the job cannot be done by establishing one or two working groups that just write up an action plan and some reports.
In any case, the reputation of the President of Mongolia will now depend on the results of reforms to be carried out to shift from a big government to a smart government. The clock of historic expectations has started ticking…
Translated by B.AMAR
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