Dealing with corruption

Control of corruption requires constitutional bodies to work seriously and not be afraid of taking action against politicians.

Team Anna has declared its intention to form a political party, which is welcome. The key question is what should be the main demand of the new party?

The voter, it seems, does not have confidence that appointment of a Jan Lokpal through the same process as prevalent for other constitutional positions will usher in good governance. Basic problem of governance today is that persons appointed by the government are expected to check corruption by the same government. This is like expecting the manager to check the illegal works of the factory owner. Need is to take the appointment of the Jan Lokpal out of the hands of the government. The same should be done for other constitutional officials such as the President of India, Chief Justice of India (CJI), Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) and Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG). These officials have adequate powers to control corruption of the government but, often, they do not use the powers effectively. Instead they use their powers for personal gains in connivance with the government. This leads to the government becoming free of checks and corruption becomes widespread. Control of corruption requires that these officials do their work seriously and not be afraid of taking action against corrupt politicians.

The record of these officials does not inspire much confidence, however. Chief Justice Chandrachud had given judgment supporting the emergency, which, if I recall correctly, he later regretted. Senior advocate Shanti Bhushan has given a list of eight CJIs whom he has called clearly corrupt. Recently, P J Thomas has had to resign from the post of CVC due to pendency of a case of corruption against him. These officials, who had the responsibility of controlling corruption, have become corrupt themselves.

The problem is rooted in the appointment of these officials. The ruling party appoints them. The CJI is appointed by the president on advice of the prime minister. Traditionally the senior most judge is appointed but there have been exceptions. Indira Gandhi had superseded three senior most judges to appoint one of her choice. The prime minister can recommend appointment of a corrupt judge as CJI.

The president is elected by the MPs and MLAs belonging to all political parties but again the person selected has almost always been at the whims of the party in power and the opposition is mostly rendered irrelevant. So is other constitutional appointments in India. The opposition is generally kept in the loop in such appointments in the developed countries. In the US, the president appoints the six ECs to the Federal Election Commission which are confirmed by the Senate. In the UK, the 10 ECs are directly accountable to Parliament. A parliamentary parties panel comprising of representatives of all the political parties keeps a check on the activities of the Election Commission.

Better governance

Elections in Canada are done by passing a resolution in the House of Commons wherein all the political parties participate in the process. This participation of the opposition in appointments seems to have delivered better governance in these countries. However, there is a crucial difference. Incomes of these countries are much higher and ability of those people to bear the consequences of corruption is greater. Everyday life of the people is not much affected by corruption. There is also a question of tradition. Indian tradition appears to be more individual-centric in comparison to the western tradition which appears to be more institution-centric. Therefore, participation of opposition in the appointment process does not appear to deliver the same benefits as seen in the case of CVC Thomas. For this reason, the demand made by BJP leader L K Advani to appoint CAG and CEC through a collegium on the lines of CVC is not likely to be very effective though it would be a step forward.

There is limited chance of improvement till the appointments are primarily in the domain of the ruling party. There is a need to explore alternative modes of appointing these officials.

The president can be elected by universal suffrage by all voters of the country as is the practice in France. Then the political parties will not have a direct power to appoint a person of their choice. They will have to take the people into confidence. The president will draw his authority from the people, not from the party in power, and will have the moral authority to say no to the requests made by the government. It is difficult for a president to control corruption of a party which has appointed him/her to the office.

The CJI can be appointed by a collegium consisting of heads of all state bar councils. CAG can be appointed by a collegium consisting of heads of state chapters of Institute of Chartered Accountants of India and the Chambers of Commerce. Other alternative compositions of these collegiums can be thought of. Main point is that appointment to constitutional offices which have the responsibility to control corruption of the government should not be appointed, even indirectly, by the same government which they are expected to control.

The new party to be floated by Team Anna should ask for a change in the process of appointment to all the constitutional offices that have responsibility of checking corruption by the government. This will put the movement on sound footing and hopefully galvanise popular support for the movement.

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