Indian anti-corruption draft law due by 30 June 2011

After having reported in the past how a personal initiative by an anti-corruption social activist in India had gained more and more momentum, until the government agreed to a drafting committeefor new anti-corruption legislation where half the members were high ranking present or former government officials, and the other half were nominated by a group of social activists – it is now clear that the closer the target date for a final draft comes, the more tensions appear, almost derailing this unusual process. There are two issues which are more and more controversial:

First, will not only all ministers, but also the prime minister and the judges of the high court be under the scrutiny of an anti-corruption supervisor? And second, what will be the role of the parliament finalizing the new arrangements?

Even the leadership among the civil society activists is split on the first question related to the prime minister. Some fear it could lead to a dangerous paralysis of the government and the function of the state, if the prime minister would come under investigation while in office; therefore there are now also proposals under discussion that not the acting, but only former prime ministers who are no longer in office might come under investigation.

But now it is reported that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seems to be prepared to accept to be equally under the new draft law like any other member of the government:

PM ready to come under Lokpal purview: Sources

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is learnt to have expressed readiness in coming under the purview of the proposed Lokpal bill. Sources told Headlines Today that Singh has conveyed to senior ministers in his government that he has nothing to hide and is willing to come under the Lokpal’s purview.

While the prime minister has shown readiness, senior functionaries in the government are not too comfortable with the idea. They feel this would set a wrong precedent and leave the prime minister vulnerable to frivolous complaints.

Civil society representatives have been pushing for bringing the prime minister, chief justice, and other judges under the Lokpal, but the government isn’t keen on it.

It is interesting that also a woman, who had been the highest ranking female officer in the national police force of India, serving there for 35 year, Dr. Kiran Bedi, who therefore knows the pattern of corruption in Indian politics, said that:

“the offices of the prime minister and higher judiciary should be brought under ambit of the Lokpal bill…

Under the convention, the country will have to draft the bill and present it before the next G20 summit. And we want proper drafting of the bill which should include prime minister and judiciary, Bedi said while addressing a meeting of the Federation of Gujarat Industries here last night…

Bedi said she was surprised over the silence maintained by various trade and industries bodies including the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Confederation of Indian Industry, and others over the passage Lokpal bill. Bedi said the differences over bringing PM and judiciary under the ambit of the bill will be sorted out and draft bill ready by June 30.

“We want effective anti-corruption authority on the lines of US, Singapore, Germany and other countries and drafting of Jan Lokpal Bill be on those lines”, she said.

While criticising the functioning of the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Central Vigilance Commission, and other government bodies, Bedi said there was a need for an independent panel to fight “the plague of corruption” in the country.

“The Central Vigilance Commission is handicapped [it was created in 1964, attached to the Indian government, “to address governmental corruption. Though it has the status of an autonomous body, free of control from any executive authority, charged with monitoring all vigilance activity under the Central Government of India, and advising various authorities in central Government organizations in planning, executing, reviewing and reforming their vigilance work”], and is dependent and controlled by political powers. There is nobody to monitor the judiciary as well. So, whom do we look up to fight this plague of corruption,” said Dr. Bedi.

The second question where there is a lack of clarity is how parliament is to be involved.

Anna Hazare, the initiator of the present dynamics, has not questioned that it is the parliament that has to take the final decision of passing a law. But what would happen, if parliament would severely change, or even reject the draft to come from the joint drafting committee?

It has to be remembered that in India, two different political groupings have been alternatively holding the majority in parliament during the last decades – different from Cambodia, where there is one large government block and a divided opposition with small numbers only – and both sides in India, while they held a majority, did not pass strong anti-corruption measures. So the anti-corruption campaigners do not have much faith that cooperation between these two blocks will pass a kind of law which they failed to establish in the past.

And it seems that both political camps are united in their intention not to accept the draft law coming from the civil society activists. The joint drafting committee may even fail to present one unified draft, but probably it will present two different drafts to parliament, reflecting their different, irreconcilable positions.

But even the government seems to see that – after so much public meetings and public campaigning – the government can no longer afford to disregard the public rejection of the actual state of corruption in the organs of public administration.

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