Millennium Post

Fighting corruption, the best way

If corruption is a key issue before political parties in this coming Lok Sabha election, including the Congress party, which presided over the biggest and the largest number of corruption cases in its10-year rule leading the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), they need to come out clearly about governance goals and compliance commitment concerning both the government and corporate life in their respective political and economic manifestos. Parties failing to do this may be regarded as only casual about corruption giving merely lip service to the biggest social evil that is eating into the vitals of the country’s economy and its progress.

Politicisation of the police force, especially at operational levels; absence of clear direction on recording FIRs by police stations irrespective of the nature and location of crime; loose performance assessment of public-contact entities such as municipal bodies, public distribution outlets, government hospitals and health centres and agencies distributing government aids to designated groups; arbitrary allotment of national assets to corporate entities; lack of transparency in both government and corporate deals; go-easy attitude to the internal check and external scrutiny system; post-approval inflation of project costs; lack of whistleblowers’ protection; absence of compulsory cost audit at all levels in medium and large enterprises and organisations irrespective of their areas of operation, lack of emphasis on maintenance of cost records, undermining the roles of statutory institutions in the fields of financial accounting, cost accounting and company secretarial services and resistance to peer review and forensic audit are among the reasons responsible for growing governance deficit in the public and corporate administration.

Election manifestos of political parties must pronounce their programmes to tackle the issues leading to the governance deficit, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had publicly admitted but failed to tackle in the absence of the political will and the fear that a sudden severity of actions may expose the government to more scams and embarrassments. The heavily Congress-dominated union cabinet had, instead, chose to succumb to the party pressure to protect and perpetuate governance deficit by loading the constitutional regulatory points with its faithfuls. As a result, a section of bureaucrats and political executives are in a handholding exercise to manipulate policies and laws to further dilute governance principles in administration and corporate management.

Maybe, it is time for well-meaning political parties to officially declare their resolution to uphold the cause of good administrative and corporate governance. Such election manifestoes should clearly indicate how they plan to fight the evil, including bringing about necessary changes in the existing laws and regulations framed by concerned departments of the going government.

While the total absence or non-functioning of the check-points concerning the functioning of the police, municipal bodies, PDS outlets, implementing agencies of the government’s social security schemes, management of nationalised banks, PWD, road transport departments, tax and levy collectors need to be recognised and how they are to be handled should form the part of the 2014 election manifestoes, political parties must spell out their resolve to break the business-bureaucracy-broker-politician nexus that has been singularly responsible for massive financial scandals under the UPA government leading to monumental revenue losses to the exchequer.

At macro-level, corporate corruption hits all – the exchequer and the public. Although it is easier to prevent than, for instance, police and municipal corruption that directly and instantly touch the common man, it only needs a strong will on the part of the government to ensure transparency in the corporate and business management.

To ensure good governance, the apex regulatory bodies and statutory institutions such as the RBI, CAG, SEBI, TRAI, IRDA, central and state electricity tariff regulatory agencies, CVC, ICAI, ICMAI and ICSI should be allowed to act without fear and favour even if their actions go beyond the written words of law to protect the spirit behind them. For instance, SEBI has recently gone beyond the code of the Companies Act 2013, to announce a new set of rules to strengthen the principles of good corporate governance. They include: the compulsory creation of a whistleblower mechanism what even our parliament has failed to do all these years. It has gone beyond the Companies Act by narrowing the limit an independent director to seven public listed company board positions, and only three as Whole Time Director. SEBI said if a person has served as independent director on a board for five years or more, starting 1 October 2013, he would be eligible to only one term of five years. In that one decision SEBI has forced the old boys club of independent directors to face retirement in five years, a very good news for all governance activists.

All eyes are at election manifestos of political parties, especially if the latter are really serious about the aspect of governance and how concerned they are about controlling corruption which has become more rampant and more severe in the recent years affecting the life and living of every common man. The issue of tackling corruption can’t be left with the narrow confines of law and, worse still, to corrupt law enforcement officers and agencies.

Will 2014 election manifestos be something different, more specific and more direct to project strong political will on the part of parties to combat the scourge of corruption?

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