Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Jan Lokpal: Debunking common myths

Myths about Jan Lokpal and Government’s Lokpal mean misinformation. Some myths are circulated deliberately to fool the people, and some crop up because of irrationality. These are the answers that people demand from the government and from Team Anna.
Myth 1: Jan Lokpal can become an all-powerful institution that can be misused.
It is a valid anxiety. People of India do not want an autonomous body that can arbitrarily use its power to do its own will. The Jan Lokpal Bill, seeing this threat, has a clause which says that the Supreme Court can, on the basis of a complaint by a citizen which has been proved right after investigation, sack the Chairperson or a member of the Lokpal.
To ensure that the members of Lokpal or the Lok Ayukta remain honest, proceedings are to be held in public or made public.
About this, Jan Lokpal Bill says: ‘Chapter IV. 10. (6) The hearings in any proceedings before the Lokpal shall be held in public except in exceptional circumstance where it is not in public interest to do so and the reasons for the same shall be recorded in writing before those proceedings are held in camera. The hearings held in public shall be video recorded and shall be made available to the public on payment of copying cost.’
Any citizen can challenge the authority of the Jan Lokpal if they have sufficient proof and conviction.

Myth 2: Jan Lokpal will not be able to curb corruption 100%.
It is impossible to have laws that guarantee 100% success. Because Jan Lokpal bill guarantees protection to whistle-blowers, speedy results (6 months deadline), complete transparency in functioning and finances, and sufficient investigative powers make, it is a powerful tool to curb corruption from top to bottom.
Always, an effort is made to create a bill that does not have loopholes. The same is true for the Jan Lokpal Bill. Because of changes in society, laws also need to be altered to suit the times, and that is why there is the provision of amendments in the Constitution of India. A largely successful law is considered a success.
It’s important to remember that there’s no perfect antidote to corruption. Curbing or eliminating corruption is a journey, and Lokpal can be an effective milestone in reducing corruption in India.

Myth 3: India has enough laws and institutions. More laws will just complicate things. What we need is strong implementation.
While implementation is subjective; proper implementation of existing laws has been lagging. It is the ineffectiveness of existing laws of corruption that has led the country to be ranked among the most corrupt countries of the world. The reason? Most of our laws regarding delivery of services don’t mandate strict time-lines and punishment. They are only on paper.
Better laws bring changes in administration. For example, getting a passport or a PAN card once took months or years, and often a person had to bribe his/her way out. But things improved when the laws changed. Today, the amount of time the Income Tax Dept. or the Passport Office takes for issuing a document or providing any service is prescribed by law.
The reason a parliament exists is because no constitution is perfect; and laws have to be added, changed or removed to serve the changing times. For nagging problems like corruption, more effective and strong legislation with thorough implementation is the need of the hour.

Myth 4: Support for Jan Lokpal is reactionary. It is because the government tried to suppress the movement that people started supporting it.
This statement in itself indicates that people are dissatisfied with the government. People have reacted because they have been a witness to the corruption by top bureaucrats and politicians (2G scam, 3G scam, Commonwealth Games scam, Adarsh Housing Society scam, black money in Swiss banks, 2010 fake housing loan in India scam etc.) the country lost enormous amounts of tax money that should have been used to develop India, to better the lives of its citizens.
There is a reason behind public anger. The chain goes like this:
Corruption = Scams = Discovery of scams = Unwillingness of govt. to take action against the corrupt = public anger
Pointing fingers at the wrong people is the worst mistake that one can make right now. We need to root out the cause, i.e. corruption; not blame the reaction, i.e. public anger.

Myth 5: Second generation reforms, popularly known as Reforms 2.0 are better alternative to Jan Lokpal.
Reforms 2.0 have been on the cards since 2004 when Dr. Manmohan Singh first became the Prime Minister of India. These reforms are not about minimum government, but maximum governance. The reforms concern property rights, labour regulations, investment regulations, education, agriculture and domestic trade. As of now, it looks highly unlikely that many of these reforms will be introduced in Dr. Singh’s second term.
Still, economic reforms and policy changes on the social fronts don’t automatically guaranty zero, or even lesser corruption. Why? Just like murder and rape, corruption is a distinct crime. It makes better sense to tackle corruption with one single holistic law, rather than spread things out across many reformatory laws, institutions and policies. Even if such reforms help reduce corruption after they are introduced, there are no guarantees about the future because individual laws are always subject to change.
Angling on second-generation reforms, is not a fool-proof or a future-proof way of solving corruption.

Myth 6: Mobocracy cannot be democratic.
It is unfair to term public opinion as mobocracy. The foundation of democracy is based on public opinion. Elections, public representatives, parliament, voting; all root from what people want. Government is of the people, for the people and by the people. The word ‘government’ means ‘to govern’ or ‘to manage’. The people give them the right (through voting) to create laws for them for better management of resources. In a democracy, it is the people who are at the centre, not the government.
Democracy fails when there is a role reversal.

Myth 7: We do not need a Jan Lokpal when we have CVC, CAG and the CBI.
It is precisely because of the failure of these institutions in curbing corruption that we need a stronger law.
The CBI is controlled by the Department of Personnel and Training, which falls under the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pension of the Union Government which reports directly to the Prime Minister. In simpler words, the highest authority of the CBI is the Prime Minister. It is not an independent agency that can act impartially.
The CVC does not have the capability for effective investigation. It has to depend on the CBI or the Departmental Chief Vigilance Officers for investigation. As far as investigation against any government employee is concerned, the CVC lacks big time. If a government official is found to be corrupt, all it can do is to make a recommendation about the fate of the official. Majority of the cases published by the CVC go without investigation or are kept pending.
The loyalty of the CVC falls with the government because the head of the department is appointed after getting the recommendation from the Prime Minister, the Minister of Home Affairs and the leader of the opposition of Lok Sabha.
The CAG has no investigative powers. It audits monetary transactions of the government and can only point to discrepancies in accounts to the government, not take action on it. The role of the CAG is limited to accounting.
Myth 8: Anna and the IAC are demanding that their and only their version of the Lokpal Bill be passed in the Parliament, which is nothing but blackmail.
The government talked to the IAC team. They want the entire judiciary out of Lokpal, they want the Prime Minister out of Lokpal and they want most employees of the Central Government out of Lokpal (only 65,000 Group A officers are included). But why? The government did not answer that. Keeping certain people free from punishment for corruption when a speedy investigation and punishment is required only speaks of the evil intentions of the government.
On the other hand, Jan Lokpal does not discriminate. It brings every government employee of this country under the Jan Lokpal. Any government official who indulges in corruption will have to pay for it, a clerk or the Prime Minister.

Myth 9: Calling the government’s Lokpal a Jokepal is audacious.
Government’s Lokpal, instead of giving protection to the whistleblower, targets him/her. If you face corruption and file a complaint to the Lokpal, the corrupt person about which you have complained can sue you at a special court without any inquiry regarding whether the complaint is true or not. In case you are not able to provide enough substantive evidence for your claim, you could get jailed for a minimum of two years. If the complaint is proven true, the corrupt will get jailed for only 6 months.
Government’s Lokpal keeps judiciary out of Lokpal, but keeps all the NGOs under it. It keeps the Prime Minister out of Lokpal, but keeps even unregistered groups under Lokpal. It keeps most government employees outside of Lokpal, but it keeps all RWAs (Resident’s Welfare Association) under Lokpal. No MPs are included in Government’s Lokpal. In short, government’s pets are given a free reign, while common citizens are punished for raising their voice against the corrupt.
In a democracy, this is called a joke.
(This article also has contributions from Amol Hatwar)

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