Business Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Wednesday, Aug 23, 2006
Code of responsibility in governance
Politicians and civil servants are the two eyes of the government. Each complements the other and both are equally vital for an effective parliamentary democracy. The Administrative Reforms Commissions'
The report of the Administrative Reforms Commission, chaired by Mr Veerappa Moily, points out that, "... There are issues like ethics in the government, political interference, corruption and relationship between the civil servants and the political executive. All these need careful examining. The need has been felt on having a code of conduct for the politicians so that bureaucracy can function properly... "
Politicians and civil servants are the two eyes of the government. Each complements the other and both are equally vital for an effective parliamentary democracy.
Increased Focus on civil servants
For quite some time now, public and media concern has been rising over what is seen as the inadequacy in the performance of public authorities. The following instances indicate such public concern. First, the entire debate in the aftermath of the July 2005 Mumbai floods focused on the role of the local authority almost overshadowing the roles of other organisations dealing with the city's infrastructure as also of the political decision makers.
Second, in the public debate following the recent serial bombings on the Mumbai suburban railway section, the city and railway authorities were the focus of special attention.
Third, when a child fell into a borewell in Kurukshetra recently, and was eventually rescued with the assistance of fire brigade and military engineers, a TV channel asked its viewers to name the authority that should be held responsible for this accident. Listed were officials from the Divisional Commissioner to the Panchayat President. But missed was the contractor who should have taken the minimum precaution, anticipating such accidents.
As it always happens, every accident and tragedy get the focussed attention of the media and shortly thereafter the issue is forgotten only to be raised again when the next disaster strikes. The issues of ministerial, civil service and corporate responsibility need more serious attention than are accorded.
Business is not immune either. Corporate crimes are being vigorously pursued. In the UK especially, public view is veering towards stiffer laws that will enable booking the top managers of the company, whether public limited or a private one, a partnership or a trust, and even of hospitals and educational authorities.
Mega projects and civil service role
Major infrastructure projects are being taken up in India involving astronomical sums. Foreign companies are being invited to participate in major infrastructure projects.
The new innovative method of financing such projects through public-private partnership casts a lot of responsibility on the civil servants and experts because they have look at the financial and operational nitty-gritties. They are also the ones to advise and help the political masters reach a decision. It is their responsibility to ensure that such decisions are fair, reasonable and in public interest besides ensuring that there are no loopholes in the terms and conditions of the project and maintenance agreements.
Code for politicians
The ARC's concern to ensure that there is a code of conduct for politicians is thus real and urgent. If the July 2005 floods were a nature-inflicted disaster, they also proved the inadequacy of the state infrastructure planners and managers.
The July 7 serial rail bombings pertpetrated by external elements brought out the inadequacies of the police, the railways and the intelligence organisations.
For well over a decade after the 1993 serial bombings, the global scenario and happenings and the periodical warnings from the intelligence authorities, the railway and police authorities do not seem to have made any visible improvement and it required last month's serial rail blasts to increase visible police presence, say, on station platforms.
One cannot obviously blame ministers for this lapse. These occurrences will soon be forgotten until the next natural calamity or another manmade disaster.
It is necessary that political masters and the bureaucracy gear up their systems quickly and enhance their alertness and efficiency. For this to happen, there is need for constant monitoring, especially by the media. Viewed in this light, the Government move to fix a code of conduct for the ministers is a well thought out. Equally welcome is the current focus on and demand for civil service too bearing the responsibility.
(The author is a former Executive Director of LIC.)
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