Monthly Archives: September 2014

Transparency, Honesty and Communication

IMG_0003-0.JPGI’m really enjoying my current assignment in CIDCO, the organization that I’m deputed to. Seeing some interesting manners of public service delivery in this organization, I want to pen some insights into the origins of public anger aka ‘law & order situations’ in police parlance.

CIDCO, the Public Sector Corporation of Maharashtra state, is an organization working to create infrastructure (including railway, metro and airport!!) for expanding urbanisation in a planned and controlled manner outside already congested urban metropoli. Land, and it’s rapidly appreciating value, therefore, is its extremely vulnerable asset. Compensation for land acquisition and sale of plotted land for specific uses, are issues in CIDCO, which are not only corruption prone but also ‘law & order’ prone. On these issues, the public perception is one of lack of trust on government’s actions and non-actions, because the land allotments-both for compensation as well as sale-take place in a hush-hush manner in files, with ‘agents’ hovering around and whispers of unholy alliances between bureaucrats and politicians for windfall benefits out of legally permitted discretionary powers on these issues.

So, the system as it works, creates a large ‘victim’ or ‘exploited’ base in the society, which is ready to organise and turn violent whenever an occasion arises. Such situations are great visuals for TV coverage and breaking news of police brutality on the protesting and angry citizens’ mob. And that’s the only point at which the rest of the world sees the story!

But I have been observing some interesting situations over the last few months that I’m posted to CIDCO. I’m the only police officer there, but the organization does not seem to need my ‘police’ presence! ‘Dharnas’, ‘Marches’, ‘Delegations’ to submit petitions, all take place. But there is no distrust from the public side and no fear to discuss the agitationists’ demands, from the management’s side. The situation does not deteriorate into a ‘law & order’ situation. So what has led to this good state of democracy where people protest peacefully?

Over the last year or so, the organization has seriously taken up an extraordinary transparency drive in the critical areas of public distrust, i.e land allocation. Kiosks have been set up in the office campus, in which the file notings on these compensatory allocation of developed lands, which has been a festering issue since many decades, are open for public viewing. Actual handing over of such lands to beneficiaries is video filmed and these video films are also publicly available on the kiosks, along with the file notings, so that the correct beneficiary is handed the compensation. As most of the beneficiaries are of rural background, cheating was a common offence on these land deals. The opening out of the earlier closed door decision making within CIDCO, has improved public trust in the system measurably.

Along with all this transparency, the management maintains an intensive dialogue with the villagers, in order to understand evolving concerns on these opened up processes. Therefore, it’s not only the elite and powerful people who are heard by the management.

As a result of this transparent and perceptibly honest dealing of the management, handling of any old and new acrimonious issues which come up in an organised way as Morchas or Dharnas, is amenable to discussions within the framework of law. And does not deteriorate into a violent expression of public anger.

All this takes hard work and a firm will to see it through, and the ‘preventive’ results are invisible but amazing.

What I see in this experience is the impact of building trust through transparency, honesty and communication with local communities from the government’s side. The problem of ‘inability to enforce’, which is the roadblock to our country’s progress, could possibly be approached through these three principles concurrently used,and monitored in a mission mode, in every people facing organisation of government.  Along with this, there should be simultaneous delegation of powers and funds to these people facing offices (about this I’ve written in an earlier post).

As a fallout, law & order, a police subject, would be needed to be minimally invoked as a state response to public protests-which should be the situation in any vibrant democracy.

 

A Chance to Change?

IMG_0062The last few days have been agog with news about the CBI Director’s Visitors’ Diary. I felt sad for CBI-another good institution which was facing public anger and distrust. It was an organization I was associated with for four years and which showed me through the general organizational culture and the cases I investigated there, what was truly meant by ‘public servant should be seen to be upholding the highest standards of integrity’.

In public life, nothing really can be truly hidden from exposure. But employees, both from public as well as private sectors, continue to work with such impressions. Is this delusion because of our systems, which never encouraged openness? RTI Act is slowly changing things, especially the ‘power means I can’t be questioned’ mindset. But can the government do more to bring accountability to officials exercising great power.

I think this problem can be approached from two sides:  1. Improve effectiveness of internal whistleblowing, and 2. Put in external monitors.

A friend who has been a keen observer of government and bureaucracy mentioned to me one simple and effective way forward on point 2.above- a system of periodic review of the functioning of strategic organizations through open-to-public(this is critical for effectiveness, but currently the process is closed-door, for whichever organizations it takes place)hearings at Parliamentary committees, similar to the senate committee hearings in USA.

The real challenge is, however, on point 1. i.e to create a truly independent watch structure which can give the required focus to whistleblowing. The vigilance departments in all government depts are far from independent and instead are part of the organization itself reporting to its management. And it is unreal to expect this system to act against the boss if there are complaints. Current vigilance mechanisms have this flaw.

Finally, since the competence and integrity of people holding powerful positions really matter to their organization’s performance, a system like the one USA has of open-to-public senate confirmations, needs to be explored. Maybe, this may also reduce our present concerns and distrust on the post-retirement appointments of persons holding powerful positions during their regular government service, since their initial appointment and confirmation to powerful posts would have been an open process.