Battling Political Corruption : Mission Possible ?

Calvin : Do you believe in the devil?You know, a supreme evil being dedicated to the temptation,corruption and destruction of man?
Hobbes : I’m not sure that man needs the help.

On the eve of 2011, Nitish Kumar, the Chief Minister of Bihar,announced that he was mandating asset declaration for public servants including ministers in the government.Since then, the personal assets of all the ministers has been uploaded on the Bihar government website. While political adversaries have termed this as an eyewash, neighbouring states which are mired in corruption, have started advocating the same formula to their government for battling corruption.

Acquiring assets that are disproportionate to one’s known income, is the most apparent outcome of any case of corruption.Which is why, mandatory decalartion of one’s assets by public servants is definitely a step in the right direction.Public scrutiny of their wealth and assets, will surely keep our babuwallas on their toes, and ammassing wealth will probably become a more difficult art.Asset declaration is already a compulsory step for politicians when they run for elections; however doing this on an annual basis will be more effective as at the end of 5 years, the damage done would probably be too huge to undo.

But the cynic in me tells me to take this development with a pinch of salt. Firstly ,having minister’s declared assets available as public information, lays the onus on vigilant citizens to uncover any discrepancies.Are we not lacking a statutory independent monitoring agency dedicated to keeping an eye on assets of public servants?Secondly, asset declaration although made mandatory has not been made a constitutional law ; so nothing prevents the next government from doing away with it and likewise nothing prevents the current government from breaking their own rules if political opportunism demands so.Thirdly, the announcement is silent on punitive actions for the guilty.For if we were to look at history, then for all we know, either the tainted politicians will escape jail term or would be out on bail and once the public memory fades would be reinstalled in the cabinet.Isn’t legislation that bans corrupt politicians from being inducted in the government , the need of the hour?

The announcement is a baby-step at best and hence should be welcomed with gaurded optimism.There have been too many corrupt politicians, too many scams and too many coverups in the history of independent india ;public confidence in the government’s sincerity to take strong anti-corruption measures has reached rock-bottom.Instead of clamouring for one another’s heads as is the political fallout of any corruption scandal, it’s high time that political parties of all hue and faith come together and enact strong legislation to combat this monster.The Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 can do with much needed reforms. The LokAyuktas and the CVC can be given more muscle eg. suo moto powers to look into cases of corruption and power to ensure that their recommendations to the Government are acted upon.At the end of the day, it’s anti-corruption legislation that will help to nip the problem at it’s bud and not simply lip service or political blame game.It’s high time that we changed the debate from “Who all are guilty?” to “Why don’t we reform our ancestral anti-corruption laws to take stock of today’s realities?” This indeed would be the ultimate acid-test for judging the sincerity of our politicians.Because the people of this country have tolerated the political soundbites following any scam for far too long.

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