The 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.