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25th January '2009
Agenda for Good Governance-II

Any type of governance which is supposed to be good has to be uncorrupted. Corruption is the mortal enemy of good governance. The worst form of corruption is the political corruption. Everything depends upon the Chief Executive of an organisation and it is more so for a political organisation. If the top is clean, the bottom will have to get cleaned up. If the top is dirty, the bottom cannot be clean and even if a part of it is clean, it will not last! Corruption in Kashmir has totally lost the stigma normally attached to it in any reasonably good society. Here no one frowns upon corruption and it is taken to be a part of the system. Corruption has seeped into the blood stream of Kashmiris. One would have to conduct a special dialysis to clean the blood! Transparency International has now upgraded Kashmir to the first position among the most corrupt States of India. The State authorities may try every means to create a fool-proof system to stem the corruption in different sectors. Unfortunately the operators themselves show the ways and means of short circuiting the system. An interesting episode is the installation of electronic meters for power consumption. The new ones are impossible to tamper with but the personnel who are supposed to guard these against tampering are themselves showing the common people the ways and means of by passing these! Thus, apart from transmission, and distribution losses, our power system has to face the deliberate human losses.

The system of corrupt practices has been refined to finesse. An interesting example is the traffic department. There is a sophisticated system in operation throughout the state right from the first entry point in Lakhanpur. Every truck driver, minibus owner, and a number of other vehicles like load carriers have to pay a monthly “tax” on plying various routes. By a strange secret code the traffic people posted at different points en route come to know whether the concerned driver has paid his monthly “tax”. The proceeds are distributed among all concerned. Similar is the situation in engineering departments where people in hierarchy have a fixed percentage for each work allotment right from the lowest officer to the senior most one. This process is not considered corruption but a regular and normal system of working. Corruption is when fictitious bills are drawn for non-existing projects. At one time it was the Revenue Department which was supposed to be the most corrupt due to an unimaginable amount of paper work involved in various procedures but now the disease is universal. Additionally, the disease has now gone into the moral fibre of the society and along with material corruption, moral corruption has spread fast in every sphere. Material corruption can be possibly eliminated or reduced to some extent but how can the moral corruption be checked?

This would need some drastic action not only from the government but by the members of the society itself. One of the surest ways of bringing in some order on the material side at least in the day to day working of different government organisations with lesser chances of corruption is the digitising of records and computerisation of different procedures. A beginning had been made in this regard in late nineties but with the change of government, the project was given a go by after the person who had initiated it was shown the door. The process needs to be restarted. It has been given out that an Information Technology Agency is being constituted. Such an agency should be more like a statutory body without any outside interference from both bureaucrats and politicians. Only there should be a mechanism for co-ordination with the concerned authorities in the government. The job should be entrusted to an organisation having requisite expertise and resources on a turnkey basis in a specific time frame. Another important measure for lessening corruption is to have a strict system of accountability fully transparent and easily accessible to a common man. The implementation of the Central Right to Information Act in full in the state may ensure this. One of our other misfortunes is absence of an incorruptible development policy which would not get affected by any change of government. With the change of government, everything changes even the basic principles of planning and development.

There should be some sanctity for various government policies and procedures including the overall policy for development. Any change should require sanction of the legislature so that works and projects started in one government automatically get carried on during the tenure of the succeeding government even if it is of a different political party or combination of parties. The projects or works should be suspended only if there is something terribly wrong with these as a matter of principle. This will not leave us a baggage of unfinished tasks and abandoned projects with the change of every government. Another avenue of corruption is the policy of frequent transfers. Normally there should be a fixed tenure for all officers and officials unless there is something adverse reported against them. People give and the concerned authorities both political and bureaucratic accept bribes for what are known to be prize postings. Sometimes prices are fixed for certain specific postings. This malaise is universal even in the Central Government! A sure way of developing vested interests and consequent avenues of corruption is the patronising of specific staff members by politicians, bureaucrats, and police officers. All these people have a habit of carrying their personal staff, special assistants, sometimes even orderlies to whatever position or posting they go during the tenure of their service career especially at senior positions.

The same is true of Ministers who desire officers of their choice regardless of the portfolios they are allotted to from time to time. It is said that some of these people insist on even carrying with them the same escorts and personal security officers wherever they go! This is a sure blueprint for promoting corruption. It has been reported that the new rulers are not able to expand the state cabinet because there is a dearth of right people among the elected lot! Even some of the incumbents taken earlier are under a shadow. Here, one is compelled to appreciate the American Presidential System where the Chief Executive has the choice of picking the right people for the right job and does not have to depend upon a motley crowd of so called elected people. With each Presidential change in America about 5,000 people change jobs and a large number of advisors come from the top notch Universities which normally function as “Think Tanks” for the State policies in different sectors. One wishes that our Universities too would take the American example and become genuine think tanks for various government policies. This needs, first of all, the removal of the taboo of political discussions in these centres of higher education. Coming back to corruption, it is so deeply entrenched in the society that the person honestly interested in removing it has a tough job ahead. Many people have become sceptical due to the imbalanced team and the failure to have the full complement soon. Nevertheless, someone has to make a determined effort to begin the process. Everything depends upon the Chief Executive now. If he takes the difficult but decisive first step, he will get full backing of the public. The fate of the widely publicised “Good Governance” depends upon that first step!

(… be continued.)

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