An honest government should not be afraid of a powerful Lokayukta
MINISTERS and officers, often in collusion, put their own interests, monetary or otherwise, above – and against – public interest. Political and administrative careers are today seen by the incumbents as pathways to personal prosperity. There are very few who attract an indirect mention in CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) reports. Those who get caught by the CBI are fewer. The Lokayukta was conceived as an office especially watching the misdeeds of ministers and officers. However, since it was meant to be so, ministers and officers never allowed it to exist but for name sake. The Goa government’s decision to make amendments to further dilute the powers of the Lokayukta has hardly come as a surprise. The amendments not only take the Chief Minister outside the purview of the anti-corruption ombudsman but also make other changes to weaken him. The Lokayukta was already one-armed in the original legislation; the new changes take away some fingers of the remaining arm too.
The changes made by the government are in total contrast to what the Lokayukta needed. Former Lokayukta Justice (retd) P K Misra, soon after he took office in March 2017, had suggested to the late chief minister Manohar Parrikar to make a number of amendments to the Lokayukta Act to bring the offices of the Chief Minister, MLAs, and presidents, vice presidents, chairmen and vice-chairmen of local authorities, societies, statutory bodies and educational institutions under the purview. Misra suggested that all public servants who receive government grants of Rs 1 lakh or more in a financial year be brought under the purview of the Lokayukta for investigation into complaints submitted by aggrieved persons. Parrikar accepted all amendments, except the one that brought the chief minister under the purview, and directed the director (vigilance) to place the proposal for amendments to the Goa Lokayukta Act before the cabinet meeting scheduled on September 27, 2017, so that the same could be issued in form of an ordinance. Despite the go-ahead by Parrikar, who was credited with playing an important role in the enactment of the Lokayukta Act and pursuing it with sincerity as the leader of opposition in 2011 when the law was passed, the Act failed to make the Lokayukta an anti-corruption ombudsman in the real sense. The leaving out of the chief minister came to mean leaving out of other key public servants.
Misra went on record that he noticed several mistakes in the drafting of the Act and suggested several amendments to be made to make the law effective. According to Misra, Parrikar assured him that he would introduce the amendments, including the one pertaining to Section 21 of the Act that provides for filing of property statements by elected representatives. However, Parrikar’s deteriorating health leading to his untimely demise left the amendments unfinished. Misra made the observation that the greatest tribute to Parrikar would be to make the amendments approved by him to remove the deficiencies and mistakes in the Goa Lokayukta Act. However, the Sawant government decided to further dilute the Lokayukta powers, leaving no room for aggrieved persons to bring up complaints against corruption in high places and hope for justice to be done.
The anti-corruption wing of the state government is too small and ill-equipped to curb malpractices and embezzlements in government departments. It normally ends up catching petty employees. The CBI cannot investigate a case unless the state government gives its consent. Petitions filed in the High Court may in some cases go against the state government but that works more for corrections in the policy direction, rather than in bringing men and women involved in corruption in high places. The Lokayukta would have been the most effective instrument to penalize and deter corruption if the office was allowed to have powers. A government that claims to be honest and transparent should not have been afraid to be placed under scrutiny by the Lokayukta. A government of clean ministers and officers needs not fear any probe as the verdict would only buttress and consolidate their honest image. Ruling parties often order investigation into corruption of opposition leaders. Why not order similar inquiries against themselves?