Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Compelling Argument for Restructuring the Government in India

If you are as disgusted as I am from learning the headline news on what is going on in India every single day, you will agree with me that there is something terribly wrong with the way the government functions regardless of the party in power. Politics has become simply a means to hold on to power and manipulate it for personal gain. The general population accepts that reality for what it is.

We seem to judge our leaders for their cleverness in outsmarting the system and the opposition, displaying no apparent concern about what they do as long as we are not directly affected. As a result, we allow our country to be governed by mostly those who are exceedingly corrupt, untruthful and arrogant enough to subvert the laws.

Sure, India has made considerable economic progress since 1991, when progress is measured by aggregate yardsticks such as GDP growth rate. It was the result of being forced to open up the economy to foreign investment that was attracted to India by the abundantly available cheap labor. Increased economic activity came from less government-run businesses and less regulations, and from more freedom for the private sector and foreign companies to do what they want to make money.

Some individuals got excessively rich from their ability to influence and exploit the centers of power. Soon, many small to medium size companies sprung up to cater to the larger established ones, and to provide services to those who could afford to pay. The trickle down economy gave birth to a larger middle class – nearly 20% of the population – whose incomes rose enough to afford some of the minimal comforts of life.

What has this new economic system created for the well-being of the remaining 75-80% of the population? By any meaningful measure of poverty levels, such as the $2 per day per person yardstick followed by the World Bank, over 75% of the people in India are still poor. The gap between the top 5% and the bottom 50% is among the highest in the world, and is widening. Yet, the idea of cheap labor as the engine for economic growth does not allow the implementation of minimum-wage laws, quality education, and sufficient skills-training for those who seek employment.

We expect our government to be terribly corrupt, and those with power and money to exploit the system to their advantage. The legal system cannot be relied upon to render justice for those who cannot afford to bribe. Many public services and permits require dishing out large sums of money under the table. Private companies engaged in power generation and other infrastructure projects routinely pay 10-20% of the contracted amounts – tens of millions of dollars – in bribes to politicians, bureaucrats and executives of companies involved. There is no incentive among the privileged to do anything about these terrible activities, and the rest of the population silently pay the price indirectly.

How much worse has the system got to get before ordinary citizens become fed up and force change? The recent anti-corruption movements are unlikely to bring about the essential structural changes needed for a just and fair system. No substantial improvement in the system will be forthcoming without a major restructuring of the government as the starting point. Only honest governments that care for the welfare of all citizens will embrace the principles of fairness and equity.

There has to be a starting point for bringing about the many difficult changes that are urgently needed. What the country must have is the rule of law instead of the rule of power. Until elected leaders are sufficiently honest, and laws are strictly and fairly enforced, there is no hope for improvement in the system.  

It all begins with whom we elect as our leaders. Democracy is not simply about how many people vote. It is more about the type of people we elect.

Without getting bogged down in the many steps that are to follow, can we force a law into effect that requires all those running for major political positions – members of parliament and state legislatures – to be those with no history of any criminal record, or serious disciplinary action? Can we require that the candidates running for these political positions (and their immediate family members combined) publish their wealth, income and sources of income? Can there be strict annual audit of the changes in their financial status? Their entire background, including professional and educational, and personal data should be made accessible to the general public through the Internet.

If we can attract honest and efficient individuals to political positions, we may expect them to do the right thing. They would hopefully enact fair and effective laws and regulations, improve the justice system, and execute economic policies that benefit all citizens, especially the poor. If we can have this simple beginning to the restructuring of government (instead of never-ending arguments on what else is needed), we can slowly build on a good political foundation to make further improvements to the system over time. But if we fail to change the course of governance, India will soon drift into an unsustainable social and economic condition.

If you agree with this proposition, please forward it to as many ordinary citizens as possible.


Amber Light said...

Dear Mr. George

Thank you for your excellent essay. I am sure (and I hope) that a large number of our thinking citizens would agree that restructuring government is a potential way out of our terrible condition.

However, I would like to point out that there is something beyond and more basic than the restructuring of government. This is the restructuring of our moral code as Indians. One major reason why we are okay with small levels of corruption and tend to look the other way is because we are taught to do this at a very young age.

We are not taught integrity at school when we are encouraged to copy, cheat and memorize passages without understanding a word, just as long as we score high marks in school. We are not educated about the value of honest work and being appropriately rewarded for good work. We are simply taught that it is ok to do anything as long as we are "successful".

I do hope that you as a decision maker and educator are able to spread and implement ideas on how to teach integrity to young minds, most importantly through demonstration. Again, this is one important step that we must take, if not the only one.

Thank you

Abraham M. George, The George Foundation said...

Yes, you are absolutely right. When parents sit around the dining table with their children and complain one moment about the widespread corruption in the country, and then laugh about in the next moment on how the father bribed someone to get a favor done for the family that day, it is obvious that there is a double moral standard.
However, the country has to take the initial step -- to elect leaders who are likely to be less corrupt and criminal, and hold them honest through financial verification of their personal wealth and income. Hopefully they would bring about the kind of changes to the system that might bring in a superior personal code of ethics.

Nalini Mitra said...

Nice and very wonderful information
thanks again for the information.
karnataka state politics
Rizwan Arshad Nominated for Bangalore Central