For Good Governance Political Will is Necessary, But it is Surely Not Sufficient
By TSR Subramanian | Published: 26th January 2014 06:00 AM |
The governance in the country has seen accelerating levels of corruption in the past few decades. A form of bakshish or ‘tip’, as a low-level transactional corruption has always been a part of daily life, relating to our thana or tehsil, and later the block; however, in recent decades escalating corruption levels have entered all layers of governance, including the secretariats at the state and even the Centre. What was a token gratitude for services rendered to the citizen has escalated to large-scale rent seeking, extortion, at all levels of society. Indeed much of our failure to reach minimal national goals in areas relating to welfare of the citizen can be attributed to the phenomenon of corruption, crony capitalism. Politics has become an unchecked unregulated business, with huge returns on illegal investments. Merely to give an example, postgraduate seats in most medical colleges are ‘auctioned’; one respected educationist openly stated that the ‘bid’ price for a vice-chancellor in a reputed university is `40 crore— multiply this into every sector of our economy and society to get a picture of the miasma permeating our system. Corruption interacts with every element of the development matrix adversely, and severely constricts the process.
The traditional theory by most armchair economists in the country had been that corruption is a ‘domestic transfer’ payment, and does not constitute ‘loss’ to the economy as a whole —this is as absurd a position as is possible to take. Corruption is not merely a transaction between ‘consenting adults’; it affects the entire governance structure, continuously escalates transaction costs, and acts as a vicious brake on the economy and society. Probably the single most important cause of our relative failure in providing minimum standards of life to a majority of our population could be directly attributed to this phenomenon.
It is well known that while all elements of our society are subject to checks and balances and some overall supervision, it is only our political class that has no restraints on itself, and nobody to oversee probity levels. Naturally the politicians, of all hues across the spectrum, conspired to ensure that the Lokpal did not come into existence for six decades—who will voluntarily ask for a Damocles’ Sword dangling over his head? In other words, much of the ills in our governance hitherto could be attributed to lack of political will. It is the advent of the Anna movement, and the refreshing new winds of change, stress on probity and openness and citizen-friendliness brought in by the Aam Admi Party that had swept Delhi and is now blowing all over the country. Suddenly, after about seven decades, a new breeze of ‘political will’ is now sweeping the country—is that sufficient for good governance?
It will be folly to think that if the ‘will’ is there, rapid development will be automatic. Governance is both an art and a science; mere good intentions will not deliver manna from the heavens. Decades of venal governance has eroded the system. Most departments are corrupt to the core, and politicisation and intellectual dishonesty are rampant even at the highest levels. Cleaning up the system will be a gargantuan task. A strong vested-interest relationship between the politician and civil servant, ably supported and assisted by the business community, has developed, which demands the continuation of status quo. Any new dispensation will have to run the gauntlet in addressing the established interests. The necessity will be to swiftly make examples of the delinquent elements, while demonstrably supporting the angels in the administration, of which indeed there is no shortage. Sensible judgment will be required to separate the good from the evil, encourage the former, and punish the latter. This is not an easy task and requires very balanced leadership, with high ability to discriminate and identify quality.
All development programmes cannot be created in detailed consultation with the public, nor through a referendum. Much of policy-making relates to finding a balance between competing interests. No major decision is usually one-sided or straight forward; every issue has pros and cons. Thus, for example, AAP has taken the correct decision to rollback FDI in retail in Delhi, a decision already being criticised by some party members. Revenue generation, balancing of the books, creating programmes for generation of employment, stimulating positive structural changes in various sectors, providing stress on rapid energy sufficiency and above all, meaningful programmes to reach the poorest in the fields of education and health are among the imperatives—these can be listed easily, but to have productive programmes established on the ground is not an easy task. While nothing can be done in great haste, a tremendous amount of sensible work remains to be done, indeed started. Reduction in corruption levels is only a start; there is a very long road to travel. Will the reformers have the wisdom, stomach for problems and obstacles, acumen, cohesion and purposeful forward movement; will they continue to enjoy ‘public support’; or will the ever present ‘system’—the evil forces—absorb and blunt the new enthusiasm, bringing the country back to ‘business as usual’? Time will tell. Removal of corruption is essential; it is far from sufficient.