The arguments for and against Nirmala Sitharaman’s tweet

Nimesh Dedhia, a tax professional, tweeted about the new income tax website being down/not working, yesterday at 11:14 am. He tagged the Indian income tax department’s handle and India’s finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman in the tweet.

It was a normal, cordial tweet – he was simply wondering if the brand new site, launched just the previous day, at 8:45 pm, was functioning or was the issue at his end.

45 minutes later, Nirmala Sitharaman tweeted this, by quoting Nimesh’s tweet, and tagging Infosys and Nandan Nilekani. Her tweet was cordial too – she was simply stating aloud that the vendor should not let Indian taxpayers down.

But, shouldn’t this be, ideally, a phone call or an email – from the Finance Minister/Income tax department to Infosys?

For FM: Why shouldn’t she tag the vendor? They are responsible for the new website and if this gets them working harder, why not?
Against FM: Why shift the responsibility in public view? Why not give the vendor the much-needed thrashing in private? They should absolutely be held accountable if the job is shoddy, but why do it in public?

For FM: But this is not a private deal. The Government contracted Infosys to create this portal for the citizens of India. Everything is public.
Against FM: But who are the client, the vendor, and the user? The client is the Government of India. The vendor contracted by the client is Infosys. The users are Indian citizens. Why should the client inform all users about the vendor’s poor work?

For FM: Don’t people tag TCS that worked on the passport seva kendra for both complaints and appreciation? Didn’t TCS officially release press releases and did interviews talking about their work there? Why shouldn’t Infosys be held publicly responsible for a poor job?
Against FM: Again, who tagged TCS for both complaints and appreciation? The users – Indian citizens. Who did the press release/interviews? The vendor. Who is tagging Infosys now when there is an issue? The client.

For FM: But doesn’t the client, the Government, also praise the vendor in public? If they can praise the vendor in public, why can’t they tag them in public to complain?
Against FM: The praise is always done not just for the vendor, but for the combined entity of the client+vendor in front of the users. The client gains from that praise too, as a responsible Government that did a good job in contracting the right vendor and getting the right technology solution to the people of India. Here, while complaining, does the client take some of the responsibility (if not a LOT more, as they should) for selecting the vendor and getting them to do the job right?

The tone towards the vendor is, “Hope … will not let down our taxpayers in the quality of service being provided“, while it should ideally be, “Hope they don’t let the Government down“. The tone towards the users is, “Ease in compliance for the taxpayer should be our priority” almost as if indicating that our job is the intention and the vendor’s job is the execution. But, in the eyes of the users, the intention and execution are both the Government’s responsibility. The Indian taxpayers are only indirectly funding the client to contract the vendor – they did not choose the vendor or work with them to make this portal happen. It is the client’s responsibility to make judicious use of the users’ money and get the job done. The Government is the face of the job when it comes to users.

To be absolutely sure, Infosys is responsible for any issues and they must be held accountable by the Government. But, from the users’ perspective, it is the Government that is responsible for the website. The users may choose to blame the vendor too and absolve the blame from the client (here, the Government), depending on their allegiance/love for the political party that runs the Government, but that is the users’ prerogative. The client need not preempt that by shifting the blame visibly, vocally and proactively.

The question here is about the communication channel and tone used by a person no less than the finance minister of India. A civil and smooth working relationship between the client and vendor necessitates that they sort any issues away from the user. When the client drags the vendor in public if there is an issue, it almost seems like asking the vendor to share the blame and abdicate a part of its own responsibility.

The question of, “If they can share the praise, why not share the blame too?” is valid, of course. But the tone would have been different, even though not completely justified from the perspective of professional and civil working relationships. The tweet, in that case, would be, “Ease in compliance for the taxpayer should be our priority. We commit to working with our vendor … to iron out all possible glitches as early as possible. Please bear with us“.

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