align="left">The State Cabinet announced a series of legislative initiatives aimed at combating corruption. The three Bills under consideration are the AP Performance Accountability Bill, Corrupt Public Servants Forfeiture of Properties Bill and AP Transparency in Public Procurement Bill. Media reports indicate that the Performance Accountability Bill is designed to fix responsibility on erring civil servants, whereas the Forfeiture Bill provides for confiscation of properties of civil servants who were found guilty and the Public Procurement Bill provides for transparent procurement procedures through adoption of technologies like e-procurement. As the text of the Bills is not yet available, I wouldn’t venture to comment on the effectiveness of each legislation.
Even though the intent of the government to combat corruption and increase transparency is welcome, prima facie the measures suggested look at best half-hearted and none of them go far enough to make a significant dent. Instead, there are time-tested best practices that are in place in many countries that can be adapted to suit our requirements. I will try to focus on a few such instruments.
Freedom of Information is one of the most powerful tools to combat corruption and increase transparency in the functioning of public authorities and is in use in most developed countries. A few states like Maharashtra, Goa, Delhi, Rajasthan and Karnataka have enacted sensible laws to ensure Right to Information, but in most cases the enforcement has been quite feeble. In the meantime, the union government has recently enacted a reasonably good legislation on Freedom of Information, but with a few significant defects, namely: there is no provision for second appeal; no penalties or compensation in case of delay in providing information and information that is made available to the legislature is not made available to citizens.
The union government is yet to frame the rules for the Act. These defects in union legislation can be addressed either by the state law or through framing appropriate rules. If these defects are addressed, it can significantly enhance the efficacy of the Freedom of Information Act. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Exposure and transparency are the best antidotes to corruption.
Citizen’s Charter is another effective instrument to enhance accountability and reduce corruption. An ideal charter should have components such as: who will provide the service; what does the citizen need to do – application, fee, information etc.; what is the time frame in which the service shall be delivered; what is the compensation for delay and instant redressal mechanism. Obviously, such a charter will work only when there is no supply constraint for the particular service.
Owing to Lok Satta’s advocacy, such a charter was introduced by the government of AP in municipalities covering four such basic services: Issue of birth and death certificates (5 days) ; Residential water connection (30 days; 10 days under OYT); Approval of house construction plan (15 days); Property tax assessment (15 days). For the first time in the country, the charter provided for a compensation of Rs 50 for every day’s delay in service, which has radically changed the nature of relationship between the citizen and the government. The charter is working well, and several hundred citizens received compensation too. The need of the hour is to introduce such charters where there is no supply constraint and ensure wide publicity and effective implementation.
One innovative instrument for combating corruption is a legislation modeled after the False Claims Act of the US. Public procurement is an area that is most susceptible for collusive corruption where the supplier in conjunction with the corrupt civil servant defrauds the exchequer. The recent scam in CGHS (Central Government Health Scheme) is one such case.
The Whistle Blower provisions of the False Claims Act allows individuals, to file suit on behalf of the United States against those who have falsely or fraudulently claimed federal funds, including Medicare, Medicaid, disaster assistance and other benefits, subsidies, grants, loans and contract payments. Persons who file such a suit can recover from 15 to 25 percent of any penalty levied, depending on their contribution to the case. The court can levy penalties upto three times the loss sustained by the public. In the past 15 years, over $10 billion was collected as penalties in 4000 such suits.
The legislative initiatives by the government only scratch the surface, and we need effective instruments to yield practical and sustainable results.