PM’s Cosmetic Anti-Corruption Code
The Union Government has updated its Code of Conduct for all central and state ministers in its effort to check corruption. All ministers must annually disclose to the Prime Minister or to the Chief Minister their “assets and liabilities” and “business interests” of their own and of their families by a prescribed date. In the prevailing context of widespread institutionalised corruption to place hope on voluntary disclosure as a check against corruption is laughable. TV channels interviewed a clutch of legal luminaries for their views about the new code. The views they expressed were mostly inane platitudes that betrayed ignorance of the problem being addressed.
This is how big corruption works. It arises from unchecked patronage by government officials. In deals involving purchase, license or sanction with commercial firms the officials take a cut. The politicians and the bureaucrats involved in the deal share the cut. That ensures silence all around. Politicians whether in government or in opposition are all part of the system. When opposition leaders raise objections about the transaction and point fingers the most that can be demanded is that the deal should be investigated.
The investigation is carried out by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). In order to investigate any transaction the CBI must first obtain permission from the very government a part of which is to be investigated. If the investigation reveals wrongdoing the CBI must obtain permission from the same government in order to launch prosecution. The CBI itself is under control of the government that is to be investigated. Almost invariably CBI officers display middle class morality. That is, though they may or may not partake of financial gain themselves, they willingly cover up the truth to protect their masters in order to promote their careers.
In this situation what kind of code is expected to deliver results? What our wise Prime Minister and wise legal luminaries mulling over the problem fail to recognise is that unless the present system of governance is amended no effective results will occur. The CBI must be liberated from cabinet control and be allowed to function autonomously. Obviously, the CBI cannot become a law unto itself and function unfettered by overview. So, what is the solution?
The CBI must be made accountable to the President who has the widest electoral mandate in the nation, who alone is sworn to preserve and protect the Constitution and law, and who is above partisan politics. Apart from the CBI there are other bodies that with advantage could be conferred constitutional status and be made accountable to the President. That might necessitate the creation of an appropriate secretariat for the President. This would broaden the role of the President. It would help contain corruption. It would change the present system. But it would not require change in the Constitution. A cursory reading of the Constitution would confirm this truth.
By Rajinder Puri