How lack of transparency kills the credibility of the government

29 Jan

Lack of routine information available in the public domain plays a huge role in reducing the credibility of the state, and making citizens more suspicious of it than we need to.   A prime example of this would be related to the appointment of Mr. Thomas as CVC chief, and the apparent changing of rules to allow his appointment as an officer at the central level.

Today’s Hindustan Times reports that rules were changed to allow Mr. Thomas to make him eligible for a post at the centre.  The government apparently creates a shortlist of officers who can hold the posts of joint secretary and above at the centre.  If an officer doe not make it to this panel, he cannot make it to Delhi.  This rule was amended to allow those who had vigilance cases against them, but were cleared, to be empaneled.  The news report further states that Mr.  Thomas may have been the only beneficiary of this rule-change.

One issue here is definitely the ease with which rules can be changed to favour/ disfavour officers within the government.  However, the other issue is that of transparency.  The rules that stipulate restrictions on the empaneling of officers do not seem confidential.  However, they are not in the public domain.  After searching for a while, what I could find was this set of guidelines for the promotion of IAS officers.  This is also a departmental note, and not simplified so that the general public can understand it.

On the face of it, if a rule/ law benefits only one person, it can be struck down as unequal, and therefore violative of the Constitution.  However, because such rules, regulations etc are not put out in the public domain, no one knows how to challenge them.  The argument may be made that aggrieved civil servants can always challenge them since they would know of the existence of such rules.  However, appointments to senior positions within the government affect the general public as well, since the decisions they take shape policies which directly affect citizens.

It is thus, very important that (1) rules regarding appointment, selection, transfer be made available in a simple language to the people at large, (2) the process of changing these rules should be made difficult.  This ensures that rules cannot be changed arbitrarily to suit particular individuals or lobbies, and (3) all decisions regarding appointment which are not deemed to be confidential, should be made public.

The Right to Information Act can only help when people know that such information exists, and can ask for it.  The government has to adopt a policy of disclosing everything that is not otherwise confidential, or trust in government will continue to erode.

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