Wednesday, June 29, 2011

We do not need an Indian Lee Kuan Yew-not even Anna Hazare

As people well acquainted with Singapore would know, its first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew is credited with transforming the marshy swampland into the world's best island state-a centre of finance, tourism and business in its own right. Yet, this has come with some costs. Mr Yew's party, the People's Action Party(PAP) has a dictatorial electoral hold in Singapore. And to a large extent, Mr Yew's approach towards the opposition has helped this iron hold. In the May-2011 General Elections, when a constituency Aljunied voted in the opposition,, Mr Yew said that the voters would 'repent' and that their locality would eventually become a slum. While he later apologized, those remarks exposed the depth of contempt he felt for the opposition. I draw this analogy with the present Lokpal bill morass in India. While perusing the Lokpal bill version of the Civil Society members, the overall tone and proposals struck me as patronizing and insulting. Sample a few of these proposals:-

  1. The Lokpal Commission chairperson/members should have a history of fighting against corruption
  2. The retiring members will have a role in selecting their successors
  3. Even the Prime Minister/Executive is expected to accept without demur, the Lokpal resources demand etc. Yet, they expect total independence from the Government. 
I accept that the very need of the Lokpal has arisen because of the breakdown of other civilian institutions, and that only an independent institution answerable only to the President is likely to survive the test of time(Election Commission/RTI Commissioner etc). Also, the bill clearly aims to preempt the delay tactics which the bureaucrats are so well known for(like not notifying bills into law, filling up vacant positions late etc), and also aims to confer true powers and independence to the Lokpal. 

We need a strong yet 'moral' person to carry this out. Anna Hazare would probably make a good Lokpal, but there are certainly others out there more qualified in governance, with better track records. Also, history is filled with examples of initially well intentioned initiatives, which later degenerated. If we are unhappy with the quality of our legislators/bureaucrats, then the way forward is electoral reforms, criminal law reforms, justice delivery changes, policy framing etc. Leapfrogging them, is not a good suggestion because democracy works on the basis of representativeness. 'Unsuitable' representatives get elected(like criminals), so the solution is probably to impose eligibility restrictions then. 

As it stands today, the Lokpal will be a super body. While the threat of dismissal by the President always holds, the moral standing then may not permit such a thing(especially if the President is like minded)!. And this is quite risky.