eGovernance in India

Improving eGovernance in INDIA

Victories in India’s war on corruption

Posted by egovindia on June 30, 2006

Victories in India’s war on corruption
By Raja M

MUMBAI – In a significant sign of a renewed battle to curtail corruption in India, the Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC), India’s most valued company (market cap US$21.8 billion), this year drew up a memorandum of understanding with the India chapter of Transparency International (TI) to clean up its procurement processes.

The April contract with the TI Integrity Pact exemplified the resurgent public battle to restore honesty in private and public corporations in India, consistently and accurately ranked as one of the world’s most corruption-damaged economies. A recent TI India study noted that petty corruption in government hospitals alone costs an estimated $440.27 million annually.

“After the ONGC Integrity Pact, other leading governmental bodies such as the Railway Board [became] interested and asked us to make a presentation,” G N Shrivastav, of New Delhi-based TI India, told Asia Times Online.

Shrivastav, a retired Health Ministry official, felt that in India “definitely there is a greater public awareness and support” for anti-corruption campaigns, adding that he is convinced voluntary organizations work with more dedication and credibility, compared with professionals of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) variety.

While Shrivastav’s boss, TI India chairman R H Tahiliani, a retired admiral who is India’s former chief of naval staff, was busy getting the Defense Ministry to use the Integrity Pact to protect contracts worth more than Rs3 billion ($64.6 million), the Berlin-based TI in its annual survey for 2005 said Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea had improved their ratings since 2004, while Sri Lanka and Bangladesh dipped. India remained in the bottom half, with a ranking of 2.9, the same as Armenia and Gabon.

TI International said South Korea progressed by developing anti-corruption institutions such as the Korean Independent Commission Against Corruption (KICAC) in 2002 and the K-PACT (Korean Pact on Anti-Corruption and Transparency), signed by 120 political, business and social leaders in March 2005.

While India’s governmental countrywide Anti-Corruption Bureau deals with bribe-hungry public officials, corporate India is more easily adopting governance codes. Pradipta Bagchi, general manager for corporate communications of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), India’s first $2 billion information-technology company, told Asia Times Online that his company has a corporate-governance policy, the 2,400-word Tata Code of Conduct, laying down such principles as: “specifically, a Tata company shall not engage in activities that generate or support the formation of monopolies, dominant market positions, cartels and similar unfair trade practices.”

In addition, recognizing that the corruption problem is as much a moral as a governance issue, Indians have tapped the country’s spiritual traditions to beat corruption. For example, business leaders ranging from Fortune 500 company managers to business students have studied an ancient system of mind purification called Vipassana; research suggests that Vipassana is effective in helping to understand the self-destructive nature of corruption.

A senior Indian government official, D R Parihar, in his research study “The Impact of Vipassana on Government”, concluded that Vipassana has a direct role to play in improving public administration. Leading Indian corporates such as ONGC, Indian Railways, auto maker Mahindra & Mahindra, and nuclear facilities such as the Bhabha Atomic Research Center regularly send employees to attend Vipassana courses.

In fact, a large variety of initiatives are under way to dent corruption in India, including the enacting of a Whistleblowers Act, a compulsory audit of political parties’ accounts, quick trial of criminal cases against legislators and seizing the illegally obtained property of corrupt public servants, a method successfully used by Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

On June 15, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (approved by the Cabinet of Ministers on April 8, 2005) supported the Law Commission’s recommendation for a law to protect whistleblowers. Commission chairman Veerappa Moily released the 140-page report “Right to Information – Master Key to Good Governance” to the media, saying such a law was integral to democracy.

“Confidentiality of the whistleblower in such cases, if she or he seeks it, as well as protection from harassment by superiors should be integral to the transparency regime,” the report said. However, cynics pointed out that the government has yet to implement many of the recommendations of the first Administrative Reforms Commission, which served from 1966-70.

The notion of a whistleblowers’ protection law gained definitive momentum in India after a 31-year-old civil engineer, Satyendra Dubey, was murdered in 2003, days after he wrote a letter to the then Indian prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, complaining about corruption in a major highway project in the mafia-dominated eastern Indian state of Bihar. The Prime Minister’s Office had distributed his letter even after Dubey had specifically requested anonymity. The murder shocked the country, and even resulted in the founding of a “Satyendra K Dubey Foundation for Fight Against Corruption in India”, based in the US. That foundation declared November 27, the day Dubey was killed, as “Anti-Corruption Day” as part of its voluntary work against corruption.

Local governments are getting dragged into the anti-corruption act, with the Maharashtra state government this month promising Anna Hazare, one of the advisers to the Dubey Foundation and a highly respected local social leader, a regulation to punish officials who dubiously dawdle over files. But the proposed law controversially only targets junior officials, allowing the bigger fish to escape.

Pressure for cleaner government in India is also growing through networking of various local and overseas anti-corruption organizations, such as the Hyderabad-based Lok Satta, the Delhi-based Parivartan, the Ahmedabad-based Association for Democratic Reforms, the Pune-based Nagrik Chetna Manch, and non-resident Indian efforts such as the Dubey Foundation and the California-based PrajaNet (People’s Resolve to Act for Justice and Accountability Network). From July 1-15, PrajaNet will be part of an India-wide information campaign against bribery, by making people aware of the Right to Information Law passed in May 2005.
Other successes are being steadily notched up, such as TI India persuading the Supreme Court to make it mandatory for all candidates contesting elections to declare their educational, financial and criminal background, if any. Members of state legislatures and governmental servants can also come under the Prevention of Corruption Act hammer.


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