Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,whose government has been buffeted by investigations into the propriety of some key policy decisions,Monday urged law enforcement agencies not to question the process of policy-making without evidence of wrongdoing and brand them as criminal acts as that,he said,would be flawed and excessive.
Underlining the efforts of UPA-2 to bring legal and administrative reforms to curb corruption and increase transparency in governance, Singh said the Prevention of Corruption Act was being modified to amend a provision which presently criminalises,even in the absence of awareness of any action of a public servant that secures for any persons a pecuniary advantage.
While actions that prima-facie show malafide intent or pecuniary gain should certainly be questioned,pronouncing decisions taken with no ill-intention within the prevailing policy as criminal misconduct would certainly be flawed and excessive, Singh told an international conference on corruption organised by the CBI .
Investigators,he said,should also distinguish errors of judgement from criminal acts.
As I have said on earlier occasions,decision making in a world of uncertainty is a risky operation and some decisions which appear sensible ex-ante may ex-post turn out to be faulty. Our administrative set up has to be so managed that the fear of the unknown must not lead to paralysis in decision making, he said.
Policy-making is a multi-layered and complex process in the government and it would not be appropriate for a police agency to sit in judgement over policy formulation,without any evidence of malafide, he told the conference organised on the occasion of the CBIs golden jubilee.
Singhs comments come in the backdrop of a string of corruption cases being probed by the CBI,the latest being the coal blocks allotment scandal involving top industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla and the role in it of the PM himself.
Singh,whose actions as the coal minister have been strongly attacked by the opposition in connection with the coal blocks allotment scandal,also highlighted the need to appreciate decisions taken by public servants.
In order that public servants may not be paralysed in taking effective decisions based on their own sound judgement and on the apprehension of an ill-informed inquiry or investigation,it is necessary that lines of confidence be clearly drawn between investigating and police agencies on one hand and honest executive functionaries on the others, Singh said,adding that the CBI and other investigating agencies are also a part of the executive.
Law Minister Kapil Sibal told the conference that the government has to strike a fine balance between private and public good in framing policies for exploitation of natural resources.
There may,therefore,be some scope for judgmental discretion and scope for malpractices in the implementation of policies. Anti-corruption agencies thus need to build better understanding of the nuances of policy implementation and decision making, Sibal said.
But CBI director Ranjit Sinha had his own word of caution to policy-makers.
Allocation and acquisition of natural resources is a particularly contentious issue in the current Indian and global context. While there is a need for fast economic growth necessitating need for quick decisions on exploitation of natural resources,the challenge for policy makers is to do it in a manner that there is no scope for impropriety, Sinha said.
Corporates operating across sovereign jurisdictions are the drivers of economic growth in the world. Fixing of criminal liability of corporations in corruption matters is an increasingly complex challenge for investigators.
A major handicap in anti-corruption investigations is the growing ability of suspects to quickly transfer ill-gotten wealth across national boundaries. While there is unanimous agreement amongst all law enforcement agencies on the necessity of tracking down the proceeds of crime across borders,the outcomes are far from satisfactory, Sinha said.
The Prime Minister,however,also lauded the CBI for its achievements and touched upon this months Gauhati High Court order which questioned the very existence of the CBI.
Some questions have come up recently about the legality of the CBI. Our government will look into this seriously and promptly. It will do all that is necessary to establish the need for the CBI and its legitimacy,and protect its past and future work, Singh said.
Addressing the conference for the sixth year,Singh also expressed the need to improve infrastructure and delivery of services by ensuring faster nation building. In the public debate on corruption in our country,it is sometimes forgotten that economic growth also implies greater opportunity for corruption. It is important,therefore,that we look at the issue of corruption in the correct perspective. While we must maintain utmost vigilance in preventing corruption and do our utmost in ensuring transparency,accountability and probity in public life,it is also important to ensure that the work of nation building goes on at a reasonably fast pace.
We cant be all the time just running down institutions of governance because there have been some cases of wrongdoing, he said.
Referring to the recent outcry over the CBIs autonomy,Singh said,the debate of autonomy has acquired political overtones which is unfortunate. Autonomy in investigation is already guaranteed. If anything more needs to be done to further insulate the investigative process from external interferences,we must not hesitate to do it. But it would be worthwhile to introspect if the debate on autonomy should lose sight of the fact that CBI and other investigating agencies are part of the executive.
He also cautioned the manner in which sensitive investigations are increasingly becoming subjects of running media commentary and it was for these reasons the CBI was exempted from the RTI act.
While arguing for the need to train CBI personnel,Singh said,a trained mind is necessary for discovering criminality. When a chargesheet is filed,the chargesheet must go through rigorous process of scrutiny and there must be a high chance of securing conviction in that case. This highlights the need for greater professional expertise in the CBI,including from non-police organizations.
What the PM said
LET OFFICIALS WORK
…Public servants (must make)… effective decisions based on their own sound judgment… Lines of confidence (must) be… drawn between investigating and police agencies… and honest executive functionaries… Errors of judgment (must be) distinguished from criminal acts… Decision making in a world of uncertainty is a highly risky operation and some decisions which appear sensible ex-ante may ex-post turn out to be faulty… Fear of unknown must not lead to paralysis in decision making.
It is important (to) look at… corruption in the correct perspective… It is… important to ensure that the work of nation building goes on…We cant be all the time just running down institutions of governance because there have been some cases of wrongdoing.
CBI PART OF EXECUTIVE
…Police enjoy complete autonomy in… investigation… and no one,other than a superior police officer,can interfere… Police and investigating agencies… are a part of the executive and must function under its administrative supervision…
GOVT MAKES POLICY
…Policy making is a multi-layered and complex process in the government… I dont think it would be… appropriate for a police agency to sit in judgment over policy formulation,without any evidence of mala fide.