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Revising performance targets, at what cost?

The pressure to achieve the set target for government agencies was palpable at the mid-year-review of the annual performance agreements.

Requests to revise the targets were made while some agencies cited factors beyond their control​ for​ being unable to achieve their goals.  With the organisation’s performance determining the performance of its human resource, the agreements appear to keep the civil servants on their toes.

While to what extent the performance agreements are motivating civil servants to perform is yet to be seen, the drive in them to score an outstanding rating appears encouraging. Yet, what matters more is whether these claimed achievements result in enhanced efficiency and improved service delivery.

The economic affairs ministry argued that it is unfair to judge their performance by the progress of hydropower projects, management of which is not with them. The reasons may be valid but not when it comes from an authority that has the responsibility to oversee hydropower projects in the country.

It is a concern when the ministry is more anxious about its rating than of the projects’ progress and its impact on the economy. Misplacing priorities here raises questions on how much authority the ministry have in managing hydropower projects in the country, let alone its development. The risk here is not of missing the target but of putting the country’s economy at risk.

Where the economic affairs ministry cites geological surprises, the agriculture ministry cites incidences of natural calamities and disease outbreaks impacting its performance. It is understandable that there are factors beyond the control of the ministry that affect crop production. But to consider 3,815MT of potato that got damaged by late blight as production for the sake of achieving the target is wrong.

In its zeal to show its targets as achieved, the agriculture ministry must not forget that when crops fail, it is the farmers that are affected the most, not the ministry. Rather, failing to meet the expectations of the farmers hollows the agriculture ministry’s achievements.

After much hype, the education ministry suggested dropping PISA-D test as a success indicator after it learnt that there is a change in the student sample. While attention must be paid to the range of causal factors that could impact an agency from meeting its target, it took the ministry a trip to New Jersey in the US to realise that it would be unable to meet the target in a month’s time. Despite the impact its policies have on the lives of thousands of children, the education ministry has been inconsistent with its plans. Teaching history subject in Dzongkha is one such case. And its suggestion to extend certificate accreditation period to two months from two weeks could be doable but it may have an impact on the current lot of national council aspirants.

While the seriousness of the agencies to meet their targets is commendable, there is a need to assess the overall purpose of setting these targets. It’s not merely about utilising budget but about how it was utilised to benefit the public and improve service delivery.

Otherwise, we risk making the performance agreements and their reviews mere theatrics.

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