2016 Year of Change: Graft attack

Public utterances and appearance of this officer generating sound and fury have not in any way helped the fight against corruption.

Kerala witnessed some early signs of change in 2016. Some welcome changes, some fraught with repercussions. Society will be watching if these signals become a trend in days ahead. It can be a boon or bane depending on how state tackles them.

Corruption has a certain ‘capillary’ power. It has the capacity to infiltrate the social body politic. But paradoxically enough, when corruption assumes gigantic proportions it invites resistance from the public. The resistance could snowball into such proportions that it takes down the very governments that act as the conduit for corruption. The usual argument that some amount of corruption is inevitable in the context of development is untenable. In some of the African and Latin American countries high levels of corruption go hand in hand with low levels of development. In Asia, both Bangladesh and Indonesia exhibit high levels of corruption with low levels of development.

Kerala’s record in bureaucrats-turned capitalists sort of corruption has been minimal though whistleblowers alert the public quite often to the politician-business nexus. A new rent seeking culture, again, is prevalent among both young and older bureaucrats. The running of bars in the state has been a highly profitable business at the expense of the ordinary people. The wealth gets accumulated in the coffers of bar barons. It should be through corrupt practices as well that they have made so much wealth. It is for further wealth accumulation that they team up with political leaders, who themselves indulge in looting public resources. One tragedy in Kerala is that ministers themselves admit there is corruption, be it in relation to road construction or other PWD works. But they fail to plug it.

Knowing well that the expenditure already incurred will be released very late, the contractors themselves negatively prefigure malpractices. A robust system wherein contractors get their dues on time would be the first step to avoiding this kind of corruption. The administrative reforms commission could take steps towards improving such conditions. The media which bring out such tie-ups plays a critical role, yet, remains silent on how both parties are equally to blame for such corrupt practices. Corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and the business class continue to legitimize their versions of truth, making truth questionable. But the public are still vigilant; they use their power of democracy and speak the truth in the face of hegemonic power.

Only through vigilance from below, corruption could be challenged. An attitudinal change is called for. What is required is vigilance, both interior and exterior. The exterior has been largely assured by the state’s own initiative such as the Right to Information Act 2005. As individuals are empowered to access behind the scenes information, authorities become more responsible. International institutions including the World Bank, the IMF, OECD and the United Nations have taken special interest in good governance criteria in running the government. This has brought back the necessity of strengthening the state and democratising political and economic institutions.

A corruption free state alone is not enough; the LDF has to go beyond this. Developmental missions such as Haritha Keralam and Suchitwa Mission are praiseworthy. However, significant structural changes are yet to be initiated. A corruption-free state as we live in now as never before should also be a state with an embedded egalitarian developmental agenda. To make Kerala corruption-free and ethical, what is required is an interventionist and redistributive state. It is this ideological commitment that would give birth to Kerala’s century.

Dr K Ravi Raman (The author is member, Planning Board, Kerala)

All sound and fury

2016 was a momentous year on the corruption front in the state. The fate of the Oomen Chandy government was sealed due to several instances of corruption and favouritism that became difficult for the government to defend. The Left parties stormed into power on the plank of a clean administration. “Everything will be alright” was the slogan. However, as things stand there seems to be no dent in corruption. The Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) itself lies tattered on the throes of controversy. 2016 began with Mr Shankar Reddy replacing Mr Vinson M Paul as the VACB director after Mr Paul proceeded on leave due to adverse comments by the Thiruvananthapuram Vigilance Court in the K M Mani case.

The Left Government appointed Mr Jacob Thomas as VACB director. Public utterances and appearance of this officer generating sound and fury have not in any way helped the fight against corruption. These days the only action of the Vigilance seems to be seeking more time for investigation as hundreds of cases started on pure whim without a plan remain pending for years. With the total control of the government from the appointment of director and other officers to the control over operations of the agency, the VACB like the CBI is no more than a “caged parrot.” It has to dance to tunes of the ruling party. With a limited number of officers many of whom consider vigilance to be a punishment posting, and others who lack either the training or the inclination to pursue complicated white collar investigation, the VACB is no more than an apology of an organization to fight corruption.

The National Crime Record Bureau statistics on Crime in India 2015 show that out of 632 cases investigated, charge-sheet submitted in court was as low as 9 percent. What is worse - the recovery of money from the bribe takers by the Bureau is nil, which means the corrupt can enjoy their money in Kerala even if finally convicted. As per the NCRB statistics, out of 1,160 cases pending trial in our Vigilance courts, trial was completed only in 51 cases in 2015 and 32 of those cases ended in conviction. Corruption cannot be tackled under the present Vigilance structure. Realizing the LDF election manifesto promised to give independence to the Vigilance agency, enact a new Lok Ayukta Act and bring changes to the law against corruption. They also committed to appoint a committee that will deliberate on these issues and submit a report in 3 months. Nothing has happened.

On the other hand, the Left government dealt a blow to transparency and accountability through a stay from the high court against an order of the State Chief Information Commissioner directing the government to publish all details of cabinet decisions, including agenda, background notes and action taken. With the passing of the Lok Pal and Lok Ayukta Act 2013, there is an opportunity for a powerful Lok Ayukta Institution, making it a model for the entire country. Together with a reformed and autonomous Vigilance Bureau, more special courts and speedier trial, the state will undoubtedly be able to fight corruption. Hopefully there should be development on this front in 2017.

Ajit Joy (The author is Aam Aadmi Party leader and lawyer)

Fairytale illusion of a social evil: Dangerous fallacy

Corruption can be compulsive as well as collusive. In the former, the victim pays to get a thing s/he is legitimately entitled to but not forthcoming from a whimsical authority. In the latter, an undue benefit is cornered by offering inducement to a pliable authority. Innately, there is a conscience revolt in us against corrupt practices. The corrupt too resist being subjected to corruption by somebody else. Caste oppression, denial of rights, torture and arrogance by state authorities are crystallized examples of nonmonetary corruption. These suppress the thinking faculties and make common citizen an unprotesting client in a corrupt environment.

Great revolutions, which aimed to build new civilizations, could not build societies which could eliminate greed and corruption. Systemic transformation far transcends economic and legal frameworks. We often expect a Knight in white armour riding a racehorse and believe that society lives happily thereafter. Unfortunately, this myopia is the fertile breeding ground for the emergence of megalomania, more often than not personified by a human personality. There could be short-run benefits, generated from fear, but it could be disastrous in the medium or long run. Streaks of vindictiveness can be camouflaged and glorified by the mighty knight and many victims will be proved innocent after much water has flown down rivers or much of the solid ‘evidence’, built up melts into thin air after an arduous process.

The late M S S Pandian, famous social scientist, while studying movie heroes successfully entering politics, remarked that on celluloid, the villain, who is a moneylender or an oppressive zamindar, is conquered and the hero is celebrated, whereas the actual abatement of social oppression was miles away.
In public domain, trial and conviction takes place first and actual process starts much later. As a result, technicalities and rules reign supreme and decision-making takes a backseat. Knights in White armour stride like a colossus for a while, only to be forgotten in the long meandering path. Corruption is evil. But leaving it to be tackled by a single hero or a heroine is a greater evil as megalomania can threaten the very fabric of democracy.

R. Mohan (The author is a former civil servant and commentator on issues of Indian federal polity)

Chandy in the dock
On October 2016, Bangalore City Magistrate Court indicted former chief minister Oommen Chandy and others in solar-related dupe case and ordered repayment of Rs 1.61 crore with interest within four months. But the case is far from resolved as Mr Chandy’s appeal against ex parte is being considered.

Bar-struck Babu quits, comes back
There was drama as Excise Minister K Babu sent in resignation on January 24, hours after Thrissur court ordered Vigilance & Anti-Corruption Bureau to probe him him in the bar bribery scandal. But he soon returned following a High Court stay on the Vigilance court order. A PIL had accused Bar Owners Association president Biju Ramesh of paying a bribe of Rs 1 crore to Mr Babu to renew the liquor licenses of substandard bars.

Vigilance gives clean chit to Abraham
Efforts to nail in vain, Vigilance gave clean chit to additional chief secretary (finance) K M Abraham on disproportionate assets charge. Vigilance judge A Badharudeen on Thursday revealed the content of the quick verification report saying he had no evidence to prosecute Mr Abraham.

E P Jayarajan exits early
LDF ministry suffered its first major blow on October 14 when Industry Minister and No 2 in Cabinet, Mr E P Jayarajan, quit following allegations of nepotism. He admitted lapses in appointing CPM central committee member P K Sreemathy, MP’s son and his close relative P K Sudheer, managing director of Kerala State Industrial Enterprises (KSIE).

Solar fraud case convicts
Court convicts Biju Ramesh and Saritha S Nair in one of the solar fraud cases. This was the first conviction in the solar fraud case which had also engulfed the former chief minister Oommen Chandy’s office staff.

IAS officers complain against Jacob Thomas
Tussle between IAS officers and Vigilance chief Jacob Thomas came to the fore. Senior IAS officers lodged protests with Chief Secretary S M Vijayanand over the Vigilance the raid on Additional Chief Secretary K M Abraham’s residence.

‘Resolve to fight graft’

The closing year presents signs of hope, presenting a refreshing change from mundane despair. Singer Sayanora’s lone-woman protest at Ernakulam north railway station against auto drivers, trying to heckle her online taxi driver, is a bold assertion of rights. Many wouldn’t mind to stick their necks out. But Sayanora’s single-handed campaign provoked the administration into action and sought to put trouble-makers in their place.

Sayanora told DC that the same attitude was essential in the fight against larger issues of corruption. “The fight against corruption should start with oneself. We should resolve ourselves, let it be our New Year resolution, neither to give nor take a penny on the sly. Pontificating is easy while it is tough to resist temptations”, said Sayanora.

Raid on Tom Jose’s house
Vigilance sleuths raided the office and residences of Additional Chief Secretary Tom Jose in Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Irinjalakuda, after obtaining search warrant from the Vigilance Court, Muvattupuzha. The agency’s FIR is with the court.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
Next Story