From transparency to accountability
Transparency and accountability go hand-in-hand in a robust democracy Transparency and accountability are the two most vital features of a...
Transparency and accountability go hand-in-hand in a robust democracy Transparency and accountability are the two most vital features of a democratic society. One without the other does not further the cause of democratic governance. Transparency without full accountability is non-democratic and therefore empty. Accountability without full transparency is a contradiction. The Right to Information (RTI) Act has been fairly successful in making the functioning of the state more transparent. Though the ultimate objective of 'Disclosure a norm and secrecy an exception' in the working of the state remains unachieved, governments and their functionaries are slowly coming to grips with this new reality. Citizens are increasingly demanding greater transparency at all levels of governance. Sometimes transparency does lead to accountability like in cases where the issues raised in RTI applications get resolved, though the idea of using RTI may have been to seek information on the lapses. This is particularly true in case of service delivery where many eligible applications gather dust in the hope that the beneficiary would yield into giving a bribe to reduce this delay. This is a classic trick employed by government functionaries to short-change citizens. Transparency would ensure that citizens are now aware of the definite timelines within which services are to be delivered, eligibility criteria etc. This knowledge would enable citizens to ask relevant questions without being awed by the labyrinth of government procedures. Thus, a transparent regime would enable citizens to demand greater accountability.
But for full accountability, transparency alone would not serve the purpose. We need to put in place systems/laws that deal with the specific questions of accountability. Even the central theme of the recent '4th NCPRI National RTI Convention' was 'From Transparency to Accountability'. The idea was to debate and suggest measures that build on the seeds of transparency and enable full accountability of public functionaries. A slew of measures are needed to put in place this 360 degree set-up to achieve the twin objectives of Transparency and Accountability. A cursory glance at the different pending pieces of legislation in Parliament relating to accountability sheds light on the kind of measures that are needed. One of the important bills to fix accountability in service delivery and address grievances is the 'The Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011'. The Bill seeks to create a mechanism to ensure timely delivery of goods and services to citizens. The bill requires every public authority to publish a citizen charter within six months of commencement of the Act. The charter should detail the goods and services to be provided and the timeline for their delivery. Its other key feature is that a citizen may file a complaint regarding any grievance related to: (a) citizens charter; (b) functioning of a public authority; or (c) violation of a law, policy or scheme. The bill requires all public authorities to appoint officers to redress grievances. Grievances are to be redressed within 30 working days. The bill also provides for the appointment of Central and State Public Grievance Redressal Commissions. A penalty of up to Rs 50,000 may be levied upon the responsible officer or the Grievance Redressal Officer for failure to render services. This bill is pending with the Parliament and is expected to be passed in the next session. The Andhra Pradesh Government also initiated steps in that direction by issuing GO Ms.No:325 to introduce and implement Citizen's Charters in departments having large public interface. The government has identified eleven (11) departments in which the citizen's charters will be implemented, including Civil Supplies, Social Welfare, Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation etc. Once the transparency regime exposes wrongdoing and corruption, we need a system that initiates the process of investigation and fixing accountability on who is responsible for the wrongdoing. The policy that can facilitate a fully accountable regime is the 'The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011'. This is one bill that has caught the imagination of lakhs of people in the country with many coming onto the roads to demand the passage of an effective Lokpal bill. The bill seeks to establish the office of the Lok Pal at the Centre and Lokayuktas in states for inquiring into complaints against certain public servants. The members of the Lokpal (Lokayuktas) shall be appointed by the President (Governor) on the basis of the recommendations of the Selection Committee. The Lokpal and Lokayuktas shall consist of one chairperson and up to eight members. A Lokpal can enquire into offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (PCA) committed by: the PM with specified safeguards, current and former Union Ministers, current and former MPs, group A, B, C, D officers, employees of a company, society or a trust set up by an Act of Parliament, or financed or controlled by the central government. The Lokpal's inquiry wing is required to inquire into complaints within 60 days of their reference. The investigation shall be completed within 6 months. Another important issue is the protection of whistle blowers. The bill that seeks to protect whistle blowers is the 'The Whistle Blowers Protection Bill, 2011'. The bill seeks to protect whistleblowers, i.e. persons making a public interest disclosure related to an act of corruption, misuse of power, or criminal offence by a public servant. Any public servant or any other person, including a non-governmental organization, may make such a disclosure to the Central or State Vigilance Commission. Citizens deserve transparency and accountability in a functioning democracy. One without the other is like a vehicle without wheels. (The writer, co-convenor of National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI) and United Forum for RTI Campaign (UFRTI), can be reached at email@example.com)