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Atul Patankar

Governance comes before a Lokpal

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Atul Patankar

An article by Ashwini Kulkarni at Indian Express on 13 April, 2011


Is the Lokpal the next “krishnaavatar”? Is this the last and final stroke required to root out corruption? The conclusion that the state is unable to tackle corruption because it does not have a mechanism or an institution to do so, is unfounded. Kiran Bedi has said that the Lokpal will clean up corruption from our society in five years. This euphoria is unfounded too, because the devil lies in the details. There is no universal, singular, dramatic solution to the all-pervading problem of corruption. Acceptance of this truth is not pessimism, but an admission that we need to work harder. In a functional democracy, working on the nuts and bolts of all its institutions is necessary — but there is nothing romantic about that.


In recent times, the political mobilisation against corruption started with the Right to Information, or RTI. The present mood of despair partially stems from the perceived ineffectiveness of the RTI. It is a logical consequence that Anna Hazare, who was instrumental in the making of the RTI and in keeping it intact, is now demanding a Lokpal bill. RTI activists always felt there was a vacuum in that after they got hold of documents which prima facie showed wrongdoing, they had little way of ensuring that some kind of enquiry was started against the wrongdoers. In spite of this, we have witnessed grave instances of RTI activists getting killed just for having the information — though they were unable to book anybody for the irregularity that they had unearthed.


In addition to the experience of activists, the common man is frustrated with the corruption all around; be it Rs 20 demanded by a traffic policeman or gigantic scams like that surrounding 2G spectrum. Hence the growing support to the “India against Corruption” movement.


But there are some steps that need to be taken first, before a Lokpal bill would be effective.


For one, the RTI stands to be ineffective for two reasons. One is that the infrastructure needed — like the number of information commissioners and their offices — are not in place in a number of locations across the country. Two, and most importantly, the data required is just not available. The data that would constitute a minimum transparency requirement for any government programme are not defined. The collection of data about inputs, process and output indicators is ad hoc, sporadic and shabby, if it happens at all.


This is serious. Regardless of how much the government spends, especially on welfare programmes and public goods and the like, any data is conspicuous only by its absence. And if there is some data being collected, it is not uniform across time and region. What those of us who work with the RTI thus wind up with is scattered information, spread across a lot of documents.


To capture an irregularity in any function of the government is certainly not simple. The road is slippery because the road is ill-defined. That is why a clearly-defined set of procedures and criteria is important. Then the process needs to be followed, and data generated as it unfolds. Process data is especially relevant to understand if there is any misuse — even though procedural lapses do not necessarily mean that there is misuse or misappropriation.


And so what we need to demand is instead good governance, defined as putting in place systems with clearly-defined rules, procedures and guidelines, and good data-capturing mechanisms, which collect data at all points of delivery. Most of this information must be in the public domain as soon as it gets generated.


For example we have seen how the railways, electricity boards, public-sector banks and the like changed drastically after reengineering their processes. Transparency increased and the general frequency of irregularities decreased. While with 2G and the CWG, precisely the opposite happened. No one knew the procedure that was intended for allocation, or the one that was to be adopted. Information related to CWG purchases was not put in the public domain as a matter of course. So if we do not define what is “regular” how could we catch what could be “irregular”?


A Lokpal bill, in whichever form it may come, it is unlikely to be effective if systems are not in place across state functions, systems designed for transparency and accountability. Given this we can catch irregularities, and have documents to prove each one, which could then be taken to the appropriate authority for redressal.


Good governance is a prerequisite for an effective Lokpal or any such authority. Expecting a Lokpal bill to give you good governance is, in my opinion, putting the cart before the horse. This means civil society must engage with the government in several ways, at many levels, and on a sustained basis. Unfortunately, the prevailing mood may not find this proposal appealing.


The writer is a Nashik-based agricultural economist

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Very rightly said. Enactment of Lokpal Bill cannot be sufficient to tackle the disease our country is suffering from. Those who are very jubilant over the recent victory of Anna in forcing the Government into accepting their demand for Jan Lokpal Bill, are very likely to get disappointed as this institution will not be able to root out corruption in another fifty years, unless the root causes of corruption are addressed. Are present laws not sufficient to fight corruption? Theoretically they are; practically they are not. If root causes of corruption are not addressed, this institution of Lokpal is also going to be one of many institutions and there is no reason why corruption will not creep in in the office of Lokpal too !!


The Right to Information Act was brought to root out corruption by bringing transparency in government functioning. But what is happening? The Information Commissions themselves are not working in a transparent manner. They are denying/giving false information to applicants. They are lacking in section 4 compliance. They are not following the norms displayed on their websites.


The steps we are taking to eradicate corruption is just like taking cough syrups and eating tamarind simultaneously and then complaining that cough syrup is not working.


Why RTI Act has not been effective, has been very well explained by Mr. Ashwini Kulkarni. Why enactment of Lokpal Bill will not be final stroke to end corruption is because root cause of corruption are still unadressed. What are the reasons of corruption, except greed? For corruption at lower levels of bureaucracy/government machinery, please see post # 10 in the following thread:


RTI is the new Weapon to Fight Against the Corruption


Why corruption is there is political circles?


Because of our political system. As Anna also accepts, it needs Rs. 6 - 7 crores to fight an election. Despite so much popularity and reports by media that whole of country is supporting Anna, he is of the view that his security will be forfeited if he stands for an election. So this amount of Rs. 6 - 7 crores is lost if the candidate is lost. It is imperative that any candidate, once elected, first of all tries to recover this amount. So unless electoral reforms are introduced, corruption in politics cannot be rooted out.


Why corruption is there in senior bureaucracy? Because the political bosses have to be corrupt because of reasons mentioned above and they cannot do so without the support of senior bureaucrats.

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