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.

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