25 September 2010

Impunity to Accountability

Was it just a coincidence that after hearing so much about accountability, or rather the lack of it, when it comes to the CWG in Delhi, I get a mail announcing a conference on a very similar theme for Africa - FROM IMPUNITY TO ACCOUNTABILITY: AFRICA’S DEVELOPMENT IN THE 21ST CENTURY - organised by  Dr. Arien Mack in collaboration with Dr. Befekadu Degefe, an eminent Ethiopian economist. The impulse for the conference?
"While the region’s problems and constraints are varied, we believe the relationship between the people and their government to be one of the most critical. In many of these countries, governments remain unresponsive to the needs of their people, and are accountable to their own interests rather than their people. In the special issue of Social Research on which this proposed conference is based, we will bring the relationship between the governors and the governed into the spotlight once again. By bringing some of our authors together for frank discussion with each other and the public, we hope to generate a productive debate among social scientists and other experts that might serve to prod policy makers and the international community to take more appropriate actions than those they may be currently engaged in."
In the case of India, could we be going the other way - from accountability to impunity? If you read the interview with former Central Vigilance Commissioner, Pratyush Shah, in the Mint, this appears to be the case- a worrying trend indeed.
"Two things bother me greatly. One is the social attitude towards corruption. In India, the most unfortunate part is that the society is no longer seriously concerned about corruption and there is social acceptance. When we were growing up I remember if somebody was corrupt, they were generally looked down upon. There was at least some social stigma attached to it. That is gone. So there is greater social acceptance. This is a kind of paradox. On one side, civil society has become more active in exposing corruption; people are filing PILs (public interest litigations) and various other ways of highlighting corruption, trying to do something about it. On the other hand, in society, there is a general acceptance of corruption. If somebody has a lot of money, he is respectable. Nobody questions by what means he has got the money. Second, the final punishment is becoming increasingly difficult. I am not saying that everything is right with CBI, but there are times they are blamed for things for which they are not responsible.
Look at an average case in the special judge’s court, which is the first court where a chargesheet of CBI is filed—(it) is taking 10 years. We got a survey done for a small pocket of CBI in one of their zones; only 4% people out of all those who were finally convicted actually went to jail. On some ground or the other they went in appeal. One appeal after another, on one ground after another. Same is happening with the departmental proceedings… they take years and hardly any punishment is given. Let me make it more mathematical for you. There would be 20% people in India even today who would be honest, regardless of the temptations, because this is how they are. They have a conscience, they would not be corrupt. There would be around 30% who would be utterly corrupt. But the rest are the people who are on the borderline."
We have to wait to see what action is taken post-Games, whether the CVC report expected by the end of this year will be acted upon or not. Meanwhile developments and debate in Africa should be followed, they remain relevant to India as well.

20 September 2010

Expanding rural health care

My article in the Financial Express today takes up the point that we need a multi-pronged strategy to address the shortage of doctors, especially in rural areas. The new BRHC course is a positive move, because it brings with it government and Medical Council accreditation. The Chhattisgarh course ran into deep trouble just because this backing was not available, but those who graduated and placed in the primary health centres have proved to be a boon for rural health care in the state where the socio-economy and geography have been limiting factors in expanding health services. Tamil Nadu has cracked the model with sufficient medical colleges, good infrastructure in rural areas etc. but other states have not got that far yet.
The BRHC course cannot be a one-point solution to healthcare. The point is that there is no need for a new course, if, and this is the big if, there is sufficient supply of doctors coupled with good infrastructure and incentives in the rural areas. Meanwhile, the course needs to be integrated with the general medical degrees to allow BRHC graduates to move into the mainstream over time. Hopefully the proposed National Commission for human resources in health will do a complete overview of the system and create a complete solution to meet the challenge of providing healthcare services to our large and diverse population.

16 September 2010

To each his own!

More news from the US against outsourcing in particular, clearly the times are bad. Bangalore meanwhile does not appear unduly ruffled by these growing protectionist trends, 'He (Obama) has his own concerns for his own country, but nothing will stop India from emerging as a superpower not only in IT but in other areas also. I have no concerns on this," said P Radhakrisnan, from Infotech, quoted on NDTV.

The problem of course has much wider ramifications, as this article in the Knowledge@Wharton series points out, its not just China, but also Germany that needs to be included in the list of countries causing the global imbalance, and of course the US stands at the other end. There are no easy solutions.

Meanwhile, Wharton legal studies and business ethics professor Philip Nichols advises U.S. manufacturers to ignore the politics and "populist aversion" around today's trade imbalances, "Political borders don't reflect the commercial reality," he notes. Economies today are so intertwined that "a trade war is really a war on ourselves." This intertwining has also been noted by Richard Baldwin in the debate on the future of EU Trade Policy on Voxeu. The fact that production has been unbundled and there has been internationalisation of the supply chain must be kept in mind, he says,  while fashioning trade policies.

For two others who have left comments on the debate so far - Tim Worstall and Jeff York-  the answer is simple - keep politicians out and let businessmen handle business.
Unfortunately,  the simplest strategy is often the most difficult to implement in practice.

15 September 2010

The world's biggest free school?

Just discovered Khan Academy, what is in all probability the world's biggest free school..this is an open source project and has the potential to bring learning to children across the world as more videos are added on.

What is really interesting is his motivation for leaving a hedge-fund job to do this work full time as he talks of getting the highest possible social return per dollar invested:
Are you interested in turning this into a business? Maybe with some VC funding?
I've been approached several times, but it just didn't feel right. When I'm 80, I want to feel that I helped give access to a world-class education to billions of students around the world. Sounds a lot better than starting a business that educates some subset of the developed world that can pay $19.95/month and eventually selling it to some text book company or something. I already have a beautiful wife, a hilarious son, two hondas and a decent house. What else does a man need? With that said, if you are a social venture capitalist and are looking to deploy capital with the highest possible social return per dollar invested, we should talk. I think you'll find that there is no more measurable, scalable and high impact way to educate the world.

Hear from Salman Khan in person here