Activists say Lokpal will have only advisory role; curbs independence of vigilance authorities; provides for punishment of complainant if complaint is found to be ‘frivolous’
Union law minister Veerappa Moily has said that corruption will be rooted out within one year. The Lokpal Bill, the minister says, will be the weapon against corruption. But, how would this be possible when the proposed legislation is already being criticised as being full of flaws? On 30th January, activists and civil society organisations will organise rallies in New Delhi and other major cities, to demand amendments to the draft legislation.
The minister was addressing the National Conference on Judicial Reforms in Mumbai on Saturday. While the minister talked about how the new law would be used to fight corruption, the applause from the audience in response to his statement was weak. It's obvious that the government will find it hard to convince people about its intentions, following the numerous scams that have been revealed recently and the absence of effective measures to deal with them. But now activists say that the Lokpal Bill is itself a source of trouble.
"Indian citizens often complain that the anti-corruption bureaux in India are ineffective. But trust me, if the Lokpal Bill is passed, whatever little chance we have for these vigilance bodies will also disappear," said Arvind Kejriwal, renowned social activist who is campaigning for transparency in governance.
The government's Lokpal Bill lays down the foundation of a vigilance commission called the Lokpal, which is in reality, imperfect and toothless. (Read the draft of the proposed Lokpal legislation on indiaagainstcorruption.org.) According to the draft legislation, the Lokpal cannot take any suo moto action, and instead of acting as a disciplinary authority it will serve only as an advisory body. Also, the Bill does not have police powers, so the authority cannot file an FIR. It can only forward its report to the competent authority.
The common man cannot approach the Lokpal directly. They will have to address their complaints to the Speaker of the House, who will forward this to the Lokpal if he deems fit.
Moreover, the Lokpal can only deal with members of Parliament and ministers. Its authority does not extend to government officials. The commission will comprise three retired judges, who will be selected by members of Parliament and ministers, including the prime minister, all of them people whom it might have to investigate when there are complaints. Defence deals are outside its purview. However, the most astonishing part is that while the Lokpal is powerless to punish a corrupt MLA, it can impose severe punishment on the complainant if the complaint turns out to be 'frivolous'!
"The Bill, if it comes into force, will do away with whatever independence our vigilance authorities have," Mr Kejriwal said. "It completely insulates one agency from another, and the investigation has to be exclusive. Without cooperation between agencies, investigations will definitely go down under. This is the government's attempt to become as invincible as possible."
Isn't it evident that the government is being defensive? When there has been a strong demand to bring to justice the culprits who have perpetrated monumental scams, the government appears to be trying to shield them. Constituting another vigilance agency is deceptive.
Mr Kejriwal said, "We don't want any more vigilance bodies, all of them will go the same way. What we need is an independent constitutional authority that can act fearlessly and take action against those in power. Otherwise Mr Moily's tall claims will fall flat."
The northernmost country in Africa has been appreciated for its remarkable economic progress. But, clearly, it isn’t working for all Tunisians, as unemployment has become a major concern
In 1997, the so-called Asian Tiger countries experienced a cataclysmic meltdown known as the Asian financial crisis. What is interesting about the crisis is that it was such a surprise. Most of the countries, including Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand and Indonesia, had during the early part of the 1990s, been growing at an exceptionally rapid rate. Everything in their economies seemed poised for unending growth. But it did not turn out that way. The same might be said for Tunisia.
Tunisia like the Asian Tigers, has been seen as a relatively stable country with a rapidly developing economy. According to the World Bank's country report, "Tunisia has made remarkable progress on equitable growth, fighting poverty and achieving social indicators". The now-deposed leader, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, has been praised by numerous world leaders including Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations secretary-general, the president of France, Nicholas Sarkozy, and the former president of France, Jacques Chirac, who called Tunisia an economic miracle.
It wasn't just world leaders. Many among the ever-expanding universe of international indexes gave Tunisia high marks. For example, in entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim's African Governance Index, Tunisia ranked 8th along with South Africa, Ghana and Botswana. According to the World Economic Forum's Global Competitive Index, which measures the level of a country's burdensome regulations and weak institutions, which inhibit job-creation and private-sector activity, Tunisia was one of the few countries in the region to come close to the average. Although according to The Economist, Tunisia ranked only 144th in its Democracy Index, below China at 136, it was at least ostensibly less corrupt. It ranked at 59th in Transparency International Corruption Index, above Italy at 67 and China and 78.
It was not just the indexes that believed in Tunisia. Tunisia's stock exchange, though very small, has been one of the Middle East's best-performing markets over the past decade. Like many other emerging markets, Tunisia recovered rapidly from the financial crisis and reached a new high just a few months ago, in October. Its investments were considered so attractive that it became a destination for a 'Frontier Fund' run by Morgan Stanley, with money from pension funds, including the Royal County of Berkshire in the United Kingdom.
A study by the Boston Consulting Group concluded that Tunisia was one of a new group of fast-growing economies with the catchy title, "African Lions". These countries, which also included Algeria, Botswana, Egypt, Libya, Mauritius, Morocco and South Africa, were supposed to be the new BRICs, because their growth rates were equal to China, Russia and India, and their per capita GDP at $10,000 was already higher than the BRIC average.
Tunisia also has a fairly high rate of literacy at over 74% and it ranks 18th in the world for expenditure on education. It is also computer literate. Nearly 4 million of its 10.5 million people use the internet with 1.8 million accounts on Facebook alone.
So where did Tunisia go wrong? Was it its oppressive dictatorship? Not exactly. There are other oppressive dictatorships in the world that do quite well. But there is one problem with non-representative forms of government: corruption.
All authoritarian governments everywhere, by definition, are not limited by any legal restraints. This allows elites to become rent seekers often through state-owned companies and monopolies. Without legal limits, the percentage of the GDP that they take for themselves will constantly increase. This was certainly true of Tunisia where president Ben Ali's wife's family dominated the economy. Tunisia's first lady, Leila Trabelsi, and her relatives, seem to have a finger in every pie. Her brother, Belhassen Trabelsi, had interests in banking, car dealerships, telecom and publishing.
Like most developing countries, Tunisia is a relationship-based system. So it is hardly surprising, according to the United States envoy, that "seemingly half" of the Tunisian business community could claim a connection with Ben Ali through marriage. Even a traditionally wealthy family like the Mabrouks, felt it wise to have the scion marry one of Ben Ali's daughters.
The main impact of an economy of corruption is on investment, the investments necessary to create jobs. For Tunisia and many other emerging and frontier markets, this is a major if not the issue. The unemployment rate in Tunisia is officially 13%, but it is probably twice this for younger people. Even university graduates face an unemployment rate of over 15%. This is not unusual for these markets where unemployment rates among younger workers can rise as high as 40%. According to the IMF, the Middle East needs to grow 2% faster every year to avoid its present chronic and high unemployment.
The Asian Crises gave birth to a new phrase in economics,' Crony Capitalism'. This is really a term for a relationship-based system, a system where capital is allocated according to relationships and not efficiently through the market. For investors, the best analysis is the one most ignored, and that is whether the market in any given country actually works.
(The writer is president of Emerging Market Strategies and can be contacted at [email protected] or [email protected])
New Delhi: After offering a lifeline to the controversial Lavasa hill city, environment minister Jairam Ramesh today said efforts are being made to find a "negotiated solution" on the stalled Rs3,000-crore project in Pune, reports PTI.
"We are trying to find a negotiated solution...trying to find a compromise," Mr Ramesh told reporters when asked about his meeting with officials from the Hindustan Construction Company HCC), which is undertaking the township project.
According to sources close to the development, company's chairman and managing director Ajit Gulabchand and other officials met the minister at his office today.
Providing a ray of hope for Lavasa, which allegedly violated green norms, the environment ministry had said last week that it was prepared to consider the project being constructed near Pune on "merits" subject to fulfilment of certain conditions.
The ministry, however, had ordered that no further construction should be undertaken for now.
Mr Ramesh, who said that the government's meetings with HCC officials were still on, maintained that "we don't want to minimise the integrity of the environmental process."
"The environmental integrity has to be maintained," the Minister said.
He said that the company officials have "mentioned to me that the project needs to go forward."
"Now we are trying to see that how best the conditions can be fulfilled," Mr Ramesh said.
The minister said the court will consider the case on 27th January. "Let us see what will happen," he added.
The ministry's recent order had held that the construction is "unauthorised" involving "environmental degradation" and hence status quo should be maintained on construction on the project in accordance with the ministry's 25 November 2010 order prohibiting any work at the site.