Saturday, 5 March 2011

Does Probity of the PM and others allow consciously overlooking and doing a wrong act?

Today 4th March 2011, The Times of India mentions the Prime Minister’s reputation for probity (I quote this newspaper because it is one I read, but I am sure many papers and magazines say the same). But this comment brought to my mind the question of what is honesty or rather, what is dishonesty?  Is the mere taking of bribes by way of cash, dishonesty? Or even gifts i.e. something in kind? The key criteria of course would be that one’s behavior pattern or actions are affected because of the receipt of cash or kind.
Going a step further – Is the child’s admission say in a school or college not a bribe? Or the child getting a job even though he or she may not be qualified or suitable for it. Here again there are not that many shades of grey involved, and all would agree that the act is dishonest – though many of us might have actually been in such a situation of either giving or taking these advantages.
But what about one’s own appointment in a position of importance or of power?  What if the appointment or selection, or its continuance thereat is a pre-requisite or a quid-pro-quo to overlooking wrongdoings? Would this be honest, dishonest or fall under shades of grey?
Let us look into matters that today are current. Today’s headline news is on the Supreme Court’s judgment on the appointment of Mr. Thomas as the Chief Vigilance Commissioner. Without going into the merits of this judgment and what will happen next, several issues came to my mind.
-      The Chief Vigilance Officers Guidelines issued by the Ministry of Personnel,
 Public Grievances and Pensions require that only the names of suitable candidates with proven integrity be offered by various organized services and PSUs for the posts of CVOs. The “proven integrity“clause would have been logical for the position of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner too.

-     CVC has issued instructions from time to time to improve the vigilance administration in the organizations under its purview and to ensure that the posts in the organizations are occupied by persons with exemplary service and clean vigilance track records. The intent of the CVC is clear, at least for other organisations. But apparently these rules do not apply to CVC themselves.
-     DoPT is reported as stating that the responsibility for updating the ER sheets  lay with the State Govt. But the Govt. has a system of calling for the Vigilance report of the candidates, and, in the instant case, both DoPT and the CVC were aware that there was already a court case against Mr. Thomas.
The questions that come to my mind are:
-     Why is the chargesheet /departmental action pending against Mr. Thomas? Why has the sanction for his prosecution not been granted?  Or if there was no real case, why was the file not closed?
-     What was the responsibility of DoPT while putting up the file of Mr. Thomas? Once one member of the selection committee raised the issue of the pending charge-sheet, did it not behove the officials concerned to get the clearance and / or obtain the status of the pending court case? Even if the Committee had cleared the appointment, was the matter not to be re-clarified BEFORE issuing the order of appointment? While it has passed on the buck to the State Govt in the matter of the contents of the file, what did it do after the case was brought to notice in Sept. 2010?
-     The three member committee was a High Powered Committee. The fact of the possible taint of Mr. Thomas came to its knowledge before approving the order, yet both the Prime Minister and the Home Minister preferred to overlook the matter. Why did they at least not ask for a clarification? They have stated that only the bio-data of Mr. Thomas was before them – but why did they not ask for a re-confirmation of the position before rushing through with the appointment? Here it must be remembered that both of them were not mute spectators to this, but active participants who took the decision, so why did they  deliberately ignore certain information.
-     Is probity only the not taking of cash or kind? Is it also not taking or continuing in a position of power? I am sure that both of them are happy in their positions, but can they be considered honest?
-    And what about the “honesty” of the officials of of DoPT, CVC and the State Govt.?

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