The dust has settled and a degree of calm prevails. Anna Hazare has returned to his village after conquering
A strong Lokpal is a good idea but it should be lean and effective. Less is always more and the Lokpal will succeed if it does few things. Let it focus on the big fish and leave the smaller ones to Lok Ayuktas, Vigilance Commissions, and other agencies. The Lokpal should have the power to initiate a case without the government’s permission and its decisions should be binding. Chief Vigilance Commission (CVC) has failed for these two reasons, and it too should be reformed by removing these two handicaps. The CVC should be answerable to the Lokpal but not be under it. Similarly, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) should be answerable to the Lokpal, but not under it. All three—Lokpal, CVC, CBI—should be autonomous bodies. However, in CBI’s case, the “single directive” (which requires prior government permission before prosecuting senior officers) should not scrapped as suggested by the Supreme Court for it was paralyze decision making.
A lot depends on luck when it comes to who is the Lokpal. The Election Commission was a mediocre institution until the determined T.N. Seshan came along, and he was followed by another outstanding CEC, J.M. Lyngdoh. Karnataka’s Lok Ayukta has recently brought the state’s chief minister to his knees. One can help ‘luck’ by insisting on probity, toughness, will power, and courage when selecting a Lokpal.
While the Lokpal is needed medicine, it is administered long after the sickness appears. Hence, prevention is better than cure. To prevent corruption, we must reform our institutions of governance—the administration, police, judiciary, and elections. Since Indians confront the bureaucracy daily, it is the first priority. Corruption will be cut if decision making is transparent, discretion is reduced, rent seeking opportunities shrink, officers are punished for deliberate delay--the favoured tactic of a corrupt babu-- and punishment is guaranteed to the guilty.
But none of these administrative reforms will work unless the incentive system within the bureaucracy is changed from the present one based on seniority--where everyone gets promoted based on years of service--to rewarding good performance and punishing poor outcomes. The present assessment system is ineffective—you cannot have eight out of ten officers being rated as ‘very good’ or ‘outstanding’, especially when
There are two types of corruption—harassment and collusive. In collusive corruption the bribe taker and giver collude—such as in the 2G scam—to steal money that belongs to the state, and both should be harshly punished. In harassment corruption, an official gives a citizen what his rightful due—a ration card or a birth certificate--only after he earns a bribe. The bribe giver is a victim here and should be encouraged to complain. This is why Kaushik Basu has suggested that a bribe-giver be given immunity to encourage him blow the whistle. The virtue of the Jan Lokpal draft is the strong protection advocated for victims of corruption. The government’s bill is superior in stipulating strong punishment for false complaints.
The Internet is our best friend in preventing harassment corruption because it brings transparency in transactions. We got our first taste when buying railway tickets and corrupt booking clerks have practically gone out of business. Placing land records on-line in Karnataka and Andhra has reduced the corrupt power of revenue officials. Those states which are using e-governance in giving birth and death certificates, ration cards, pension payments, driver license renewals have cut down on speed money. It should be mandatory for every government department to place its rules, procedures, and forms on its website. Cash transfers based on the Aadhaar smart cards will do much more to reduce the massive corruption that exists in delivering jobs, subsidised food and fuel, and other services to the poor.
Citizens Charters have been a flop so far but post-Anna some state governments, like
Land is the biggest source of corruption because government decision making is deliberately opaque. Change of land use, municipal permissions, completion certificates, plus dozens of permissions result in massive collusive corruption. The amounts are even larger in awarding contracts for natural monopolies--mining, oil and gas, telecom spectrum—and the answer is open, transparent bidding (like an auction) under a firm regulator. Because most industrial and large real estate projects require environment clearance, the ‘licence raj’ had shifted to this ministry.
Ever since Indira Gandhi disallowed corporate donations, elections are now only fought with black money. Cleaning up electoral funding has to be a priority along with other electoral reforms such intra-party democracy and banning criminals from politics. Judicial and police reforms are crucial. The police cannot be a lackey of state chief ministers and has to be given autonomy as reform commissions have suggested. Given the growing cases of the misconduct of judges, the judicial appointments must come under a judicial commission comprising of non-judicial persons.
Finally, the most important lesson--keep the government small. A lean government tends to be more competent and less corrupt. Sensible governments no longer run industries, airlines, and hotels. Fewer controls and fewer licenses mean less corruption, as we have seen since 1991. Reforms are the best medicine against corruption.