The importance of good governance for long-term economic and social development has long been recognised around the world. Transparency, accountability, and responsiveness of the administration are the three essential aspects of good governance. The "Citizen's Charters initiative" is a response to the need to find solutions to the problems that citizens face on a daily basis when dealing with government agencies. The concept of a Citizen's Charter enshrines the relationship of trust between service providers and their customers.
The concept was first articulated and implemented in the United Kingdom by John Major's Conservative government in 1991 as a national programme with a simple goal: to continuously improve the quality of public services for the country's citizens so that they respond to their needs and wishes. The programme was renamed "Services First" by Tony Blair's Labour government when it was relaunched in 1998.
OBJECTIVES OF CITIZEN’S CHARTER
The Citizen's Charter's main goal is to give citizens more power over how government services are delivered. As originally framed, the six principles of the Citizen's Charter movement were:
1. Service quality: enhancing service quality
2. Whenever possible, make a choice
3. Expectations: Specifying what to expect and what to do if expectations are not met
4. Worth: For the money spent by the taxpayers
5. Individuals and Organizations Accountability
6. Transparency: Rules, Procedures, Policies, and Grievances
The Labour government later developed these into the nine principles of service delivery (1998), which are as follows:-
1. Establish service standard
2. Be open and honest, and provide all relevant information
3. Consult with and involve others
4. Encourage access to information and the promotion of freedom of choice
5. Be fair to everyone
6. When things go wrong, fix them
7. Make efficient use of resources
8. Improve and innovate
9. Collaborate with other providers
THE RATIONALE BEHIND CITIZEN’S CHARTER
• A Citizen's Charter is a written agreement between citizens and a public service provider regarding the quantity and quality of services citizens receive in exchange for their taxes. It is fundamentally about the public's rights and the obligations of public servants.
• Citizens have the right to expect a certain level of service that is responsive to their needs and delivered efficiently and at a reasonable cost because public services are funded by citizens, either directly or indirectly through taxes.
• Service providers sign a written, voluntary declaration about service standards, choice, accessibility, non-discrimination, transparency, and accountability in the Citizen's Charter.
• It should be in accordance with citizens' expectations. As a result, it is a useful way of defining the nature of service provision and explicit service delivery standards for customers.
• Another reason for the Charters is to assist in changing the mind-set of public officials from those who wield power over the public to those who have a proper sense of duty when it comes to spending public funds raised through taxes and providing citizens with necessary services.
• The Citizen's Charter, on the other hand, should not be merely a document of assurances or a formula that imposes a uniform pattern on all services. It is intended to be a toolkit of initiatives and ideas for raising standards and service delivery while also increasing public participation in the most effective way possible.
• If vigorously implemented by government departments, the Charter should be an effective tool for ensuring transparency and accountability, as well as assisting in the delivery of good governance.
• The charter, if successfully implemented, could allow for the following:
A. Increased service quality
B. Increased responsiveness of government officials to the public
C. A higher level of satisfaction with services among the general public.
INGREDIENTS OF A GOOD CITIZEN’S CHARTER
The following are some of the characteristics of a good charter:
1. Concentrate on the needs of the customer
2. Easy to understand language
3. Service expectations
4. Reliable Treatments
6. Delegating authority
7. Mechanism for feedback
8. Constant observation
9. Review at regular intervals
CITIZEN’S CHARTER AND THE INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE
• The UK's Citizen's Charter initiative sparked international interest, and several countries followed suit, including Australia (Service Charter, 1997), Belgium (Public Service Users' Charter, 1992), Canada (Service Standards Initiative, 1995), France (Service Charter, 1992), India (Citizen's Charter, 1997), Jamaica (Citizen's Charter, 1994), Malaysia (Client Charter, 1993), Portugal (The Quality Charter in Public Services, 1993), and Spain (The Quality Charter in Public Services, 1993). (The Quality Observatory, 1992).
• Some of these initiatives are very similar to the UK model, while others break new ground by relying on the 'Total Quality Management' (TQM) movement's service quality paradigm. Other initiatives are positioned somewhere in the middle.
1. THE MALAYSIAN EXPERIMENT
• In 1993, the Malaysian government issued Client's Charter Guidelines to help government agencies prepare and implement Client's Charters, which are defined as "a written commitment by an agency to deliver outputs or services according to specified quality standards" (Government of Malaysia, 1998). In 1993, the 'Best Client's Charter Award' was established.
• The Malaysian Client's Charter system closely resembles that of the United Kingdom. However, there is a distinction made between agency-wide and unit charters.
• When things go wrong, the concept of ‘service recovery' entails taking proactive steps to restore the client's trust and confidence.
2. THE AUSTRALIAN WERE NOT FAR BEHIND
• The Australian Commonwealth Government launched the Service Charter Initiative in 1997 as part of a long-term commitment to improve the quality of service provided by government agencies to the Australian public by shifting government organisations away from bureaucratic processes and toward customer-focused outcomes.
• Service charters are a powerful tool for fostering change because they require the organisation to focus on the services it provides, measure and assess performance, and implement performance improvement.
• A Charter acts as a surrogate for competition where none exists by providing goals for agencies to strive for (Department of Finance and Administration, 1999). Over six million customers have access to Australian government services through Centre Link, a one-stop shop.
• One-to-one service has been adopted by Centre Link as an innovative and personalised approach to service delivery. Customers are treated with respect and consistency in one-to-one service, which simplifies dealing with the government.
3. THE CANADIAN FOLLOWED UP
• In 1995, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat launched a Service Standard Initiative based on the United Kingdom's Citizen's Charters, but with a much broader scope.
• Citizens' expectations for friendly, respectful, and courteous service, faster response times, and extended hours at government offices, and "one-stop-shopping" prompted the launch of the Service Standard Initiative in Canada.
• Simultaneously, there was a need to reduce the deficit and provide better value for money by making better use of resources (Treasury Board of Canada, 1995).
CITIZEN’S CHARTER AND INDIA
• India has made significant progress in the field of economic development over the years. This, combined with a significant increase in literacy, has increased Indian citizens' awareness of their rights.
• Citizens have become more articulate, and they expect the government to not only respond to but also anticipate their demands.
• Since 1996, it has been in this climate that the Government has begun to develop a consensus on effective and responsible administration. An "Action Plan for Effective and Responsive Government" at the Centre and State levels was adopted at a conference of Chief Ministers of various States and Union Territories held on May 24, 1997 in New Delhi, presided over by the Prime Minister of India.
• One of the major decisions made at that Conference was that the federal and state governments would draught citizen's charters, beginning with those sectors that have a high level of public interaction (e.g., Railways, Telecom, Posts, Public Distribution Systems and the like).
• These charters were to include, among other things, service standards, time limits that the public can reasonably expect for service delivery, avenues for grievance resolution, and a provision for independent scrutiny through citizen and consumer participation.
• The task of coordinating, formulating, and operationalizing Citizen's Charters was started by the Government of India's Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances (DARPG).
• The following elements are expected to be included in these charters:
A. Statements of Vision and Mission
B. Information about the organization's transactions
C. Client information
D. Specific information about the services provided to each client group
E. Information on the grievance redress system and how to use it
F. The clients' expectations.
The Indian Citizen's Charter, which is largely based on the UK model, includes a section on 'expectations from clients,' or in other words, 'user obligations.'
• The importance of involving consumer groups, citizen groups, and other stakeholders in the development of the Citizen's Charter is emphasised in order to ensure that the Citizen's Charter meets the needs of its users.
• The Charters must be monitored, reviewed, and evaluated on a regular basis, both internally and through external agencies.
• While the government's overall efforts and initiatives on the Citizen's Charter were underway, it became clear that exemplary implementation of the Charter in a major public interface area of government would not only establish a new concept in the bureaucracy's inertia-prone bureaucracy, but also serve as a role model for replication in other sectors/areas.
• The banking sector was chosen for this purpose because it was in the second phase of economic reforms, and it was fairly advanced in terms of customer service, and it was also using information technology to speed up various processes.
• The primary goal of this exercise was to establish the banking sector as a model of excellence in citizen charter implementation.
• In the year 2000, the DARPG chose three major national level banks, namely Punjab National Bank, Punjab and Sind Bank, and Oriental Bank of Commerce, for a hand-holding exercise.
For exemplary implementation of their Citizen's Charters, the following key issues were highlighted:
A. Involvement of stakeholders in the formulation of Citizen's Charters
B. Deployment of Citizen's Charters in Banks with full participation of staff, particularly at the cutting-edge level
C. Raising awareness of the Charters among Bank customers
D. Special training on the concept and implementation of a Citizen's Charter for employees at all levels.
• Following an assessment of the current state of the Charters by the identified banks through independent agencies, Action Plans were drawn up to address any deficiencies. As a result, the charters were revised and standardised on the basis of the Indian Banks Association's model/mother charter (IBA).
• Employees of selected branches received training from master trainers trained by the National Institute of Bank Management, who used a module developed in collaboration with DARPG. Several measures were also taken to ensure that the Citizen's Charter received widespread attention.
• An external agency was hired to reassess and revaluate the banks' implementation of the Citizen's Charter, as well as to document the hand-holding exercise at the end of the exercise. This task was given to the 'National Institute of Bank Management' (NIBM), which completed it and published a report on the exercise in 2003.
CHALLENGES IN IMPLEMENTATION OF CITIZEN’S CHARTERS
• In India, the Citizen's Charters initiative began in 1997, and most of the Charters formulated since then are still in the early stages of implementation.
• In any organisation, introducing new concepts is always difficult. Due to the old bureaucratic set up/procedures and the rigid attitudes of the work force, introducing and implementing the concept of Citizen's Charter in the Government of India was much more difficult.
THE MAJOR OBSTACLES ENCOUNTERED IN THIS INITIATIVE WERE:-
1. The general perception among organisations that drafted Citizen's Charters was that the exercise was necessary because of a directive from on high. The consultation process was either non-existent or minimal. As a result, it became one of the organization's routine activities with no clear focus
2. In order for a Charter to succeed, the employees responsible for its implementation must receive proper training and orientation, as the Charter's commitments cannot be expected to be fulfilled by a workforce that is unaware of the Charter's spirit and content. In many cases, however, the concerned personnel were not adequately trained or sensitised
3. At critical stages of the formulation/implementation of the Citizen's Charter in an organisation, transfers and reshuffles of concerned officers severely undermined the strategic processes in place and hampered the initiative's progress
4. Client education campaigns about the Charter were not conducted in a systematic manner
5. In some cases, the standards/time norms for services mentioned in the Citizen's Charter were either too lax or too strict, and thus unrealistic, leaving an unfavourable impression on Charter clients
6. The Citizen's Charter's concept was not fully comprehended. Citizen's Charters were mistaken for information brochures, publicity materials, and pamphlets produced earlier by the organisations.
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED THROUGH OUR EXPERIENCE OF CITIZEN’S CHARTERS IMPLEMENTATION?
The following lessons have been drawn from the Citizen's Charter initiative's implementation experience to date:
1. Like any new initiative, the Citizen's Charter initiative will be met with scepticism from both bureaucrats and citizens at first. To overcome this scepticism, an effective early-stage awareness campaign involving all stakeholders is required. These public awareness campaigns should be creatively designed and delivered.
2. The issuance of the Citizen's Charter will not immediately change the mind-set of the staff and clients, which has evolved over time. As a result, consistent, unwavering, and persistent efforts are required to effect behavioural changes.
3. When a new initiative is launched, it is met with resistance and scepticism from the staff. There is a natural aversion to change, especially among the most cutting-edge employees. Involving and consulting them at all stages of the Citizen's Charter simulation and implementation will go a long way toward overcoming this resistance and making them an equal partner in the process.
4. Rather than trying to reform all of the processes at once and encountering massive resistance, break the tasks down into small chunks and tackle them one at a time.
5. The charter initiative should include a mechanism for monitoring, evaluating, and reviewing the Charters' effectiveness, preferably through an external agency.
STEPS NECESSARY FOR THE SUCCESS OF CITIZEN’S CHARTERS
TO MAKE THE CITIZEN’S CHARTERS A SUCCESS THE FOLLOWING ARE NEEDED:-
1. A sense of impending doom
2. The Head of Department and the entire staff are responsible for the Charter
3. A committee led by the Chief Minister should be established at the state level to oversee the implementation and progress of the Citizen's Charters
4. Ongoing communication with stakeholders
5. Keeping the staff motivated and reviewing their performance according to the charter's criteria.
6. Adopting corrective action.
7. Procedures and systems should be simplified
8. Decentralization and a reduction in hierarchy.
CITIZEN’S CHARTERS SHOULD BE SEEN AS:-
1. A collaboration between citizens and the government
2. The Citizen's Charter is a programme of action, not just a concept.
3. They are an important part of democratic reforms
4. Citizen's Charters provide people with direction and a customer-focused approach
5. Citizen's Charters represent a proactive approach to good governance
6. Citizens' Charters must be encouraged by political parties, administrators, and even the judiciary.
THE KEY TO SUCCESS LIES IN:-
1. Establishing policies for guarantees and redress
2. Integrating service standards into the organization's performance management system
3. Making performance standards public and comparing performance to them
4. Creating awards for achieving high levels of customer service
5. The Charter must be simple in order to be useful
6. The Charter must be shaped not only by senior experts, but also by interaction with cutting-edge staff who will ultimately implement it and users (individual organisations).
7. Simply announcing the Charter will have no effect on how we operate. It is critical to create conditions for a responsive climate through interaction and training.
8. Begin by stating the service(s) that are being offered
9. The user's entitlement, service standards, and remedies available to the user in the event of non-adherence to standards should be mentioned next to each service.
• A review of the Charter initiatives around the world reveals a common concern for improving service delivery and involving citizens in performance evaluation.
• Despite the common management thrust evident in most Charter programmes, significant differences in these countries' politico-administrative contexts have resulted in divergent strategies being adopted.
• These differences can be seen in the amount of legal support these initiatives have, the use of guarantees and compensation in the event of non-fulfilment, the degree of delegation in terms of defining standards and selecting implementation mechanisms, the emphasis on market and nonmarket instruments, and the commitment to review and action on implementation.
• Some countries place a greater emphasis on market mechanisms and notions of competitiveness, viewing citizens primarily as clients or consumers of services; these countries have adapted private sector experience to the public sector. Some of them have taken significant steps in the direction of devolution. Others have adopted a legalistic approach, but have placed a greater emphasis on consultation and measured effectiveness in terms of citizen satisfaction.
• As a result, charters have taken on a variety of shapes and meanings, as well as different outcomes in terms of the state of public administration in general and service delivery in particular.
• These differences are noticeable not only between countries. Because of differences in delegation levels, there are significant differences in the nature of commitments and the effectiveness of Charters within specific country contexts, as well as across regions and services.
• As a result, it's critical to understand the potential for adapting the Charter programme to the specific county context, as well as the strategies that can be developed to make it more effective.
• In India, the scope for variation across regions is enormous due to vast regional differences in administrative culture as well as variations in the socio-economic and political context, all of which influence the scope of citizen participation and the forms of accountability required to improve effectiveness and efficiency.