Two weeks ago, when B.PAC – Bangalore Political Action Committee, rated K J George and Haris the best performing MLAs, Bangaloreans were taken aback. While this ‘best’ was a relative term, it is obvious most lay citizens aren’t happy with any elected representative, given the state of the city. But how can we really evaluate an MLA’s performance on the ground and in the assembly?
The MLA rating project was part of BPAC’s multi-pronged strategy to increase voter participation, from supporting voter enrollment to MLA rating, candidate awareness etc. The survey looked at the following parameters and weightage:
20 – attendance in the Assembly
5 – unstarred questions in the Assembly
20 – starred questions in the Assembly
20 – Local Area Funds utilisation
15 – citizen perception survey
5 – education qualification
5 – criminal record
10 – social media followers
While social media numbers can be gamed easily, BPAC has tried to use data for the most part to reflect these aspects. B.PAC also shared a disclaimer: “This is not to be interpreted as a rating of integrity and quality of work done.”.
How do we figure what they did in the Assembly?
The most important job of an MLA is to represent their constituents in the state Assembly. Accordingly, 45 points have been allotted to attendance and engagement (asking questions).
Starred questions have a higher weightage – 20 points. These are important questions that merit a verbal reply in the assembly by the concerned minister, while unstarred questions receive written replies. These are considered to be authentic government information. The decision on whether a question is starred or unstarred is made by the government, not by the MLAs themselves. So there is also a small chance that a really important question would have not been marked as ‘starred’, and it may be unfair to rate it higher this way.
But asking questions is not the only thing: MLAs participate in debates, and they are part of committees to discuss various important matters.
Some data is available in the website – http://kla.kar.nic.in/assembly/assembly.htm
- Committees and their meeting minutes. For example, the Committee on Local Bodies and Panchayati Raj is supposed to “To examine whether the Local Bodies and Panchayat Raj Institutions are performing their duties, in accordance with the law, bearing in mind the autonomy of the Local Bodies and Panchayat Raj Institutions.”
- Questions asked by the MLAs
- Minutes of debates on each day of the session.
Unfortunately, it is not in searchable (Unicode) format. Also, most of it is saved as scanned images of Kannada text, making it absolutely incompatible for machine reading.
Committee meeting minutes, reports submitted by committees, cabinet meeting minutes etc are also indicators of the performance of MLAs or ministers, but they are either not online, or not organised properly in a searchable, structured data format. (The parliament website is much better-organised, which is why organisations like PRS are able to analyse the work of parliamentarians much better.)
The other aspect of representing constituents is, MLAs do not reflect people’s will while making or voting on laws. Again, there is little scope for that, because their position is based on their party whips, towing the party line, and not according to their conscience and citizens’ preference.
The results from the perception survey conducted by Daksh, an NGO working on democracy and governance, were used in the rating. A voter perceives an MLA based on what she sees on the ground — the roads, water supply, safety etc. Since much of this is the civic body BBMP’s work, should we be evaluating MLAs on these parameters?
The reality is MLAs are often involved in such issues, influencing contracts, plan approvals, transfers of officials etc. Citizens too go to MLAs with civic grievances, escalating issues if BBMP doesn’t fix them, as though in a hierarchical organisation!
Harish Narasappa, Founder of Daksh says a ground survey is important for determining what people’s real issues are. Their survey follows statistical models and uses the census and electoral rolls to divide the blocks for surveyors to target within a constituency. Narasappa says, “With 13000 responses from across Karnataka, it reflects the perceptions on the ground as accurately as possible.“
He explains that from a voter’s perspective, the accountability flows only through her elected reps – the corporator, MLA and MP. So it is a fair expectation of the MLA to address all the issues that matter to them. Even those issues, which are BBMP’s job to fix, are still relevant because voters expect them to raise it publicly and in the assembly.
Spending money is not an achievement
20 points have been given for Local Area Funds usage. Almost all MLAs have spent their 10 crores. It is not difficult to spend money on a bunch of local works – from bus shelters to water stations to borewells to roads to school buildings. But then these items anyways are in the purview of the local body, and it is fair question to ask why have such a fund at all? There are many accusations that LAD funds are misused and that takes the attention away from the legislative duties of an MLA, but the Supreme Court had ruled that it is constitutional.
But, here’s the other thing with evaluating based on Local area development funds – it is just 2 crores per year – peanuts, going by the amount of money pumped into each ward, either by BBMP or by the State, in the name of Nagarothana funds, road repair / footpath repair expenses, solid waste management funds and even funds from the Centre. MLAs have the power to lobby for more money for their area.
Where’s the data and what’s the outcome?
Even if one rates the MLA on this parameter, it should be based on outcome, not on the expenditure. When we say ‘outcome’, the details of HOW the funds were spent matter a lot. Many MLAs spend a lot on digging borewells, or building toilets that may not even exist on ground. They build bus shelters or asphalt roads, which may also have been billed twice or thrice to different agencies under different heads.
The details of MLA LAD fund usage provided on RTI request, by the District Commissioner’s office show only the money allotted and the work details. There is no status report or details of the implementing agency anywhere. The exact amount of money allocated and disbursed in a constituency is also not listed transparently.
MLAs and their parties says they have spent XXX crores and show it as their achievement, but what is the visible outcome and impact of the money spent?
Are promises kept?
Anybody working in a formal organisation knows how a performance appraisal system works. You get measured against the goals and objectives. Normally every job has a set role, responsibility and targets specified. However there is no written rules on an MLA’s role and responsibility, as an RTI response showed.
So the only point that we can evaluate an MLA is what they themselves promise in their election manifesto. We need a system to track every MLA’s actions over the term. In addition, we need to look at various issues raised by citizens and the elected reps response to it. In short, every MLA/Minister needs a status tracker.
This is what Mahadevapura voters tried – they looked at 12 items they had raised with the government and found none of them were solved.
Such a close analysis should be done in each constituency, and over time – and best done by non-partisan citizen groups, supported by local colleges and research organisations. This has to be supplemented by a qualitative analysis of government performance, department by department. Daksh did such an analysis in 2009, as part of their “First year report card of the government”. Laborious and challenging, given the lack of quality data, but it is an important task that will keep elected representatives on their toes.
Indices reflect on performance
MLA’s work covers a large scope across the spectrum of the state’s subjects – from health to education, law and order to jobs to agriculture. There are many indices and report cards that reflect the state of governance in these areas.
For example, the Karnataka Learning Project anchored by Akshara Foundation (an NGO that works on education) releases reports on the number of government schools, number of students enrolled, student-teacher ratio, number of schools with toilets, etc. by Assembly constituency. This along with the ASER report on the students’ performance could be used to evaluate the state of education in the constituency. This can be measured over time to reflect on the MLA’s performance. Similarly many metrics like dengue cases, no of jobs created, no of farmer suicides, etc. can be measured by constituency.
The fact is this: Besides being located at the IT capital of the nation, our pillar of democracy, the government, especially Vidhana Soudha DOES NOT PROVIDE enough data to evaluate the work of its members.
If there is one thing citizen groups and organisations like B.PAC should do, it is to demand that the government become more transparent, and share all data related to its working online, in an open format.
Meanwhile, instead of looking at spending taxpayer money on setting up a Vidhan Soudha TV channel, Vidhan Soudha can start stream its proceedings online!