The Hazare movement against corruption in government has elevated public concern about the corrosive nature of governance in the country. Unfortunately, even if this protest yields passage of legislation by the parliament to appoint a body to investigate serious corruption by politicians and government officials, it is unlikely to bring about the much needed reforms. However, in this age of street protests in many oppressive countries, it is refreshing to see that the Indian public is directly demanding some level of honesty and accountability on the part of powerful politicians and officials.
There is little hope, and history has vividly demonstrated, that governments are capable of reforming from within. This blog cannot do justice to describing adequately what would bring about the desired change. Instead, I would like to mention very briefly what we as citizens would probably like our governments to do for us.
There is no doubt that we want our government to serve all its citizens. Individuals and private organizations pursue their self-interest and are unlikely to concern themselves with our common interests. It is the shared interests of all people that we expect our government to look after.
In my opinion, the government’s role must be confined to assuring security and liberty, justice and equity, and providing basic public services and creating an environment for vibrant and fair economic activity. When governments extend themselves into other functions, such as running businesses and trying to direct markets, they also introduce unwanted regulations and licenses that give officials and politicians the power and opportunity to profit from misuse of public funds and to take bribes. Until the citizens of a country restrict their government to those desired functions described above, there will be only limited, if any, positive results from protests against corruption.
Let me briefly and broadly elaborate the rightful functions of government. Security and liberty relate to protecting against external threats, and preventing crimes and internal instability without compromising individual freedom and rights as offered by the constitution of the country. Justice, both legal and social, assure equality and opportunity regardless of gender, caste, religion and sexual orientation, and the ability to seek and obtain remedy against wrongful acts by individuals, organizations and governments. Equity is important in assuring fairness and human rights – the ability to avail basic services such as education, livable housing and healthcare, and protection from poverty.
Government may involve itself directly or indirectly in offering affordable public services such as roads, water supply and electricity. At times, the government may fund private initiatives, such as basic research, that could lead to innovation and comparative advantage for the country in certain sectors of the industry. Finally, monetary, fiscal and regulatory policies as well as international agreements must be designed to promote private business activities that conform to essential public considerations such as environmental safety, competitive business practices, and consumer protection.
Unfortunately, governments at both central and state levels in India play a much wider role with excessive powers. It has resulted in inefficiencies that hinder economic growth and prosperity, loss of freedoms and individual rights, corruption and injustice. Until such time government’s role is properly redefined and confined to what is essential to meet the collective needs of its people, the nation will not be able to achieve its dream of a fair, just and prosperous society.
Abraham M. George