|If power corrupts ...|
|Friday, 29 April 2011 00:00|
Although the Lokpal Bill appears to be the focus of attention, a more meaningful solution is likely to come from what is being proposed in the Group of Ministers (GoM) forum on corruption. So far, the discussion has centred on reducing the discretionary power of ministers—so, if a minister or a chief minister cannot allot a plot of land to someone from his discretionary quota, the chances of him or her taking a bribe for this are virtually reduced to zero. Similarly, if the minister does not have the power to decide if you get a licence, this reduces another avenue for corruption. All of this is leading to the view that, for precious natural resources, auctions must be made mandatory. But even so, there will still be room for discretion. In the current 2G case, for instance, the ministry gets to decide whether those firms that haven’t rolled out their networks should be penalised or whether their licences should be cancelled. In 1999, although the NDA’s decision to migrate to a revenue-share-based telecom policy was a progressive one, the decision was taken by the government; in 2003, similarly, the decision to create a Universal Access Service Licence (UASL) was taken by the government. In each case, there would be powerful interests who would be willing to spend big money in favour of the policy as well as against it. What the government is discussing, FE reported yesterday, is that such policy decisions taken by the government should be ratified by Parliament. Indeed, in its ruling on the development fee on airports at Delhi and Mumbai a few days ago, the Supreme Court has held that the government cannot unilaterally decide on cesses without Parliament ratifying this.
While some of this will, no doubt, slow the process of decision-making, it seems a good idea since it dramatically lowers the scope for discretion, and therefore for corruption—mandating a certain minimum number of working days in Parliament may be a way to fix part of the problem. More important, once legislation is passed by Parliament, it also ensures continuity in policy. Another idea the GoM would do well to consider is the one proposed by the Planning Commission—of taking away licensing/penalty powers from ministries and handing them over to independent regulators who report directly to Parliament; and whose every action is scrutinised by parliamentary committees along with help from the CAG. We’ve lost R1,76,000 crore in the 2G scam, let’s make the most of the opportunity this has provided to clean up the system properly.