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January 22, 2020

Modern times


January 22, 2020

Many years ago, comedian Charlie Chaplin starred in a film which depicted a world in which humans at work were no longer necessary. Machines had taken over their role. Our world may be headed in the same direction. There have been reports that the government is planning to replace the traditional system of measuring performance through Annual Confidential Reports or ACRs with a Key Performance Indicator which would be used to evaluate the performance of bureaucrats using technology. Those who achieve 20 percent below the average on KPIs for three consecutive years could be laid off.

The planners seem to think that, once e-government is introduced, there would be no need for clerks and other support staff in government offices. This is an ongoing trend around the world. However, in a country where there is an enormous human population, many of which cover many seeking jobs, the plan is not to sack people but to ensure that there will be no replacements after retirement. Policymakers feel that this could help control the rising pension bill and avoid extracting huge sums of money from the exchequer each year.

Since we have very little success in controlling population growth, cutting jobs and replacing people with machines will not essentially help families, even if it arguably makes the measurement of performance more efficient. Even on this count, there is debate around the world on whether introducing technology truly makes places of work more efficient. In the situation we face today, it may be better to train clerks already at work on how to use new mechanical systems. This would enhance their skill set and perhaps avoid the need to replace them. There is also the risk that switching to technology may add to problems on many fronts. Human need after all should be a priority for government. At this stage, one of the three needs is more jobs and more skills. There is every reason to believe that staff already employed in government offices can pick up necessary skills to use the new technology being considered. Perhaps this would be the way to move forward, allowing new systems to also be tested, rather than suddenly stepping into an environment which brings with it an entirely new set of difficulties and many more complications.

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