WITH THE institution of Lok Pal becoming defunct and the State Vigilance Bureau reduced to serve the political interests of the man at the helm, the entire accountability architecture in Punjab lies in a shambles. The daily news about vigilance sleuths catching petty officials pocketing a few hundred or thousand rupees seems like a burlesque theatre of sorts.
Given the realities of the body polity in Punjab, talking about ‘Accountability’ seems asking for the moon, and one needs to remind the readers that this is where basic change in politics starts, unless we have made a permanent peace pact with eternal loose governance.
Any move aimed at resurrection and ending the systemic institutional decay would have to start with the idea of constituting an all powerful autonomous ‘State Accountability Commission’ for Punjab.
Such an institution can be set up under the State act, headed by none less than a retired Chief Justice of the High court or a retired Judge of the Supreme Court. The said Commission should have the statutory powers to evaluate the work and efficiency of all the political appointees who invariably enjoy extravagant status and draw huge salaries and perks from the State exchequer, often for doing no productive work for the State and its people.
Punjab needs an administrative architecture for a periodical appraisal of the performance of all political appointees. It must start from the CMO.
For such a comprehensive review, the Ministers could also be brought under the purview of the Accountability Commission. After all, there have to be checks and balances in place in the Westminster system of Parliamentary Governance that India borrowed from Britain.
This would be possible only if a graspable and measurable assignment of work and duties for each political appointee is defined in his or her letter of appointment. Statutory rules must be framed and codified, either through subordinate legislation or by way of Government’s notification, entailing a periodical appraisal of the performance of such political appointees.
The State Accountability Commission should be empowered to pass mandatory orders to remove any of these appointees, if found wanting in the discharge of their duties or found superfluous or a burden on the state exchequer. The State Legislature should also empower the ‘Accountability Commission’ to even recover the entire quantum of public money with penalty, spent on such appointees from the State treasury, in case any one of them is found guilty of any misconduct or wrongdoing.
Such a legislative measure has become essential for the transformation of the unwieldy office of the Chief Minister Punjab. At present, there is a huge battery of white elephants, unnecessarily parked in the CMO, and intriguingly, most of them are at loggerheads with each other, creating a terrible mess in the CMO in the absence of supervisory control and accountability mechanism.
The Chief Minister, as of now, has four freelance advisors in the CMO. Mr. T.S. Shergill is in the rank of cabinet minister and others are in the rank of Minister of State. The CMO is overcrowded with a clumsy assortment of Secretaries, Political Secretaries and OSDs, most with no legitimate or codified power or responsibilities, whatsoever.
Moreover, it’s too well known that Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh hardly attends his office in the Civil Secretariat at Chandigarh. The suffix OSD should be re-coined as OND (Officer on No Duty). Most amusingly, the Chief Minister’s office is yet to notify the time slot in the schedule of timings related to the CMO, thus failing to notify the general public as to when anyone can meet the Hon’ble Chief Minister for redressing any grievance.
Although India presumably views Pakistan as a failed State but the achievements of its National Accountability Bureau (NAB), which is dealing with some of the most corrupt top politicians, are highly commendable. It’s pertinent to mention here that Pakistan’s top politicians perceived to have indulged in mega corruption by misusing the State power while in office, are behind bars and facing trial before the accountability courts. They include Nawaz Sharif (former Prime Minister), Asif Ali Zardari (Former President) and their family members. Why can’t we put in place such a tough measure to deal with corruption and inefficiency in high places? Unfortunately, the fragile links in our system of jurisprudence have not only made the system notoriously slow but destined to fail in timely delivery, particularly when big-wigs are to be brought to justice and face trial.
I am of the considered view that such a sorry state of affairs could only happen in a failed State; and the most discernible symptoms of a failed state could be determined as the erosion of legitimate authority of the State to make collective decision, whereby the chain of command goes berserk. Besides, the inability of the Statecraft to provide public services to the last man standing in the queue is the final evidence. The obvious consequence of the wrecked chain of command was witnessed when the entire State’s might failed to rescue a two year old Fatehveer Singh out of the 150 ft deep borewell. That none has been held accountable for the trail of a botched up asymmetrical rescue operation despite public cries is something that should send us back to the drawing board to devise ways in which accountability of those at the helm could be fixed.
(*The author is a former Deputy Speaker of Punjab Vidhan Sabha, and a politician celebrated for his grasp on legislative affairs. The article is exclusive to Punjab Today.)
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