Millennium Post

‘Need to balance probity with bonafide graft-curbing steps’

Some provisions of anti-corruption law seem to scare the honest without deterring the corrupt, the Economic Survey on Friday said while calling for an amendment to the legislation to prevent graft in order to improve economic policy-making by public servants.

Spelling out measures to help public servants decide without fear or favour, the Survey said "it would be desirable for the government to set up a Commission to recommend a new prosecutorial policy for the offence of corruption which balances the need for probity with the need for bonafide decisions to be taken without fear of false allegations of corruption".

Drawing attention to problems faced by public servants, the Economic Survey for 2015-16 tabled in Parliament by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said: "There is a credible perception that well-intentioned but draconian legal provisions seeking to prevent decision-making with favour seem to be resulting in decision-taking with fear."

Some provisions of anti-corruption law seem to scare the honest without deterring the corrupt, it added. Taking note of the importance of civil servants in growth of the economy, it said rapid and equitable economic growth requires formation and implementation of a good policy, which in turn involves both ministers and civil servants. "There is widely-held perception both within the civil service and among outsiders who interact with the government that civil servants have in recent times become increasingly reluctant to decide issues quickly and firmly. This has consequences for the economy," it added.

Elaborating, it noted that the problems with civil service decision-making stem from gaps in capacity, training and specialised knowledge in dealing with certain kinds of economic issues, while increasing the rigour of external oversight mechanisms may have unintended effects.

External monitoring in the public sector tends to be skewed towards bad decisions that were taken rather than good ones that were not taken, it noted. "This promotes a culture where avoidance of mistakes is more important that the pursuit of opportunities," it added.

In a bid to tighten the anti-corruption law, the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, added a provision according to which a public servant is said to commit the offence of criminal misconduct if he, while holding the office as a public servant, obtains for any reason any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage without any public interest.

"An error or something regarded in hindsight as an error can constitute a crime punishable by imprisonment and during the trial stage the stigma of corruption," it said.

"No such section appears to exist in other democracies where it is the duty of investigating agencies to establish corruption including evidence of motive," it added. 
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