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Where There is a Will

Gayatri Sahgal

By Jennifer Bussell
Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, 2012, pp. 306, Rs. 895.00


‘E- governance’ is now commonly referred to as the fourth wave of administrative reforms. In India as well, the verve of E-Governance based initiatives, which began in the late 1990s continue to be seen as the primary mechanism for improving service delivery. While several studies have noted the efficacy of such reforms, few have dwelt on unpacking the incentives guiding their implementation and adoption. In trying to bridge this essential gap in understanding, Jennifer Bussell asks why politicians differed so strikingly in their efforts to use technology to improve public service delivery. She builds her analysis on the hypothesis that rent seeking behaviour plays a critical role in influencing the form and nature of reform initiatives. More specifically calculations made by political elites regarding the costs and benefits lead to a divergence in the timing, scope and scale of reforms.   Bussell begins by evaluating the factors that influenced the timing and spread of one stop computerized service delivery centres which provided a range of public services at a ‘single window’ and included computer based monitoring and queuing, automated document transfers and data base of citizens information, established with the objective of making services more transparent, accessible and reducing bureaucratic discretion and corruption. Despite such objectives, Bussell argues that variation in the timing of reform efforts are explained by the incidence of petty and grand corruption in a state and the cohesiveness of the ruling government—coalition government or single party ruled states. Economic variables such as state domestic product, human development indicators and technology infrastructure, are not significantly correlated with timing of reform efforts. In contrast, there is a strong statistically significant relationship between the level of petty corruption in a state and the timing of reforms, measured as the number of months before policy initiation. Using the Cox Proportional Hazard model the author finds that a one unit increase in the level of corruption is associated with a 78% decrease in the likelihood of the state adopting a reform. The presence of coalition governments was also found to be strongly correlated with the adoption of technology enabled services. States with coalition governments were 99% less likely to adopt reforms than those ruled by a single party.   In discussing the scope of reforms the author draws on her previous argument and posits that the number and types of services are influenced by the levels of petty corruption and the nature of electoral ...

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