Lateral entry: ‘revolving doors’?

The Union government has proposed lateral entry of persons from “private sector companies, consultancy firms and international or multinational organisations” as Joint Secretary (JS) to “bring in fresh ideas and new approaches to governance and also to augment manpower”.

This may be unexceptionable, except that lateral entry from the private sector could entail conflict of interest, since such an entrant would be employed in a ministry which is connected with his particular field of expertise, to which he will return on termination of contract. The originators of this proposal appear to be unaware of or unconcerned with this implication. 

During his tenure as JS in the ministry, a lateral entrant from the private sector company or consultancy firm can be expected to prepare policy drafts and recommend policy decisions or prepare plans and projects for implementation, such that they do not impact adversely on his ‘parent’ corporate sector, even if he does not purposefully act for its benefit.

When a lateral entrant reverts to his company or firm after his contract period, he will carry with him real value in the form of close contacts with persons in government with whom he would remain connected. Further, if not copies, he would certainly carry in his mind the content of the policy decisions within government even before they are presented to the public.

In any case, he would be able to use information and knowledge and his official position even during his tenure, to the commercial advantage of his company without detection of possible violation of the Official Secrets Act to which he would be subject. Such information would provide him with the means of unfair leverage for his company over other companies, or over the government, with accompanying disadvantage or loss to the exchequer.

It is recognised that some businesspersons have enormous influence at the highest levels in the state and central governments. These persons would influence the selection of lateral entrants in key ministries, thus further increasing their leverage for personal and corporate advantage.

At present, the call for lateral entry is by the Union government, but there is no reason why state governments would not take similar action, thereby creating wholesale openings for contract-hiring of corporate executives and effectively outsourcing governance at multiple levels. This would result in an enormous increase to the already high level of corporate influence at decision-making levels in governments and on governance processes. Such influence cannot but be to the detriment of democratic governance and even economic sovereignty of government.

Furthermore, there is no reason why a lateral entrant would not be re-inducted into bureaucracy especially since he would have prior experience, and he would be quickly absorbed into the workspace. This is not far-fetched — the examples of certain big US corporations sending their legal, technical or scientific employees to work in the US administration at policy-making levels, and the same employees going back more than once, are well-known. Such exchanges work as “revolving doors” between corporates and government. The Government of India may thus be creating a precedent for a practice which can only be to the unfair advantage of corporations over public institutions of governance.

Consider PSU entrants

The government would be well-advised to drop the plan for lateral entry into bureaucracy from private sector companies, consultancy firms and international or multinational organisations. It might, however, restrict itself to appointing individuals working at comparable levels in public sector undertakings and statutory organisations only, while excluding individuals from autonomous bodies, universities and recognised research institutes, for reasons similar to corporate entrants.

The government would also do well to recognise that Nandan Nilekani came in from the corporate sector to be appointed by the UPA government as chairman of UIDAI. The shortcomings and risks of the Aadhaar system he wrought were highlighted by a Parliamentary Standing Committee and are still the subject of examination by the Supreme Court.

Our bureaucrats, for all their individual, institutional and cadre faults and shortcomings, have a solid grounding in governance, something which even the most talented corporate honcho would not know.

This writer, coming from a military service background, may be permitted the liberty of mentioning a different lateral entry matter which would be wholly in the national interest. For decades, the Defence Services have been requesting for lateral entry of soldiers (here meaning all ranks of the army, navy and air force) into the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF), since over 80% of our soldiers retire at the age of 38 years.

This young, trained, disciplined and physically fit source of manpower in CAPF will bring their experience and expertise to pep up the CAPFs, whose personnel retire at 60. The government would do well to reopen the matter for the benefit of our country and of the young soldier-retiree.

(The writer retired as Additional DG, Discipline & Vigilance, in Army HQ AG’s Branch)

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Lateral entry: ‘revolving doors’?

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