27th May 2011
What Would I Do If I Became India’s Prime Minister? #3
The Freedom Agenda for India
First of all, we should be very reluctant to dismantle anything related to governance without fully understanding its impacts. For example, we should be extremely loathe to jeopardize our already weak justice and police systems. Being therefore wary of reducing any of the strengths we have built so far, my objective in this blueprint is to develop a constructive story which incrementally, but systematically, rebuilds, and then strengthens, the pillars of liberty in India. It is like re-building a road in small sections without disturbing the flow of the usual traffic.
Reforming Public Finance
Building Capability to Govern
Enabling Public Servants to Represent People
Appointments of Cabinet Secretary and Ministerial Staff
The ball of bureaucratic accountability will be set rolling by reducing the current exclusive reliance on the bureaucracy for policy advice and implementation. To signal this change the Cabinet Secretary will no longer be a public service position. This will mark the divide between political representatives and the bureaucracy, between the agent and sub-agent. This position will henceforth be held by an MP in the rank of Minister of State without voting rights in the Cabinet. The incumbent public service Cabinet Secretary will be offered a redundancy package; or, alternatively, reverted to his or her state cadre. Ministers will also be empowered to appoint a small team of political ministerial advisers on short-term contracts which will run concurrently to the Ministers’ appointments.
Compensation for Peoples’ Representatives
Being committed to a squeaky clean government, I cannot afford the luxury of Cabinet colleagues being paid poorly. As an interim measure, my Cabinet will significantly increase the salary of members of Parliament. State Governments will also be funded for similar increases for their assemblies and councils. The monthly wage of MPs and MLAs would go up from the current Rs 33,000 to, say, Rs 3,50,000, with proportionate increases for Ministers. There will also be an annual adjustment based on the cost of living. Simultaneously, all perquisites and indirect benefits will be abolished.
- For every 1 per cent increase in per capita GDP growth beyond 5 per cent per annum, all our representatives will get a one-off 5 per cent bonus.
- For every 1 per cent permanent reduction – defined as a reduction sustained for two years – in the number of people below the poverty line, MPs and MLAs will get a permanent 1 per cent increase in their base salary. Once the negative income tax system is fully established, the entire reduction in poverty will be incorporated permanently into the base salary.
- For every ten ranks that India rises on a sustained basis of two years in Transparency International rankings, there will be a 5 per cent one-off bonus.
- There will be a permanent 20 per cent increase on base salary upon India’s becoming the world’s least corrupt country for two years in a row.
- The sum of these bonuses will be limited to a total of 50 per cent of the base salary in any given year.
- a compensation mechanism for peoples’ representatives that will eliminate all reasonably foreseeable incentives for corruption, or will otherwise promote the freedom of citizens; and
- any matter related to the mechanisms of political representation, such as electoral laws.
High Priority Electoral Reform
- repeal of the requirement in the Representation of the People Act for Indian political parties to swear allegiance to socialism;
- removal of limits on political fund raising and expenditures subject to stringent disclosure. These disclosure requirements will include third party audits and audit by the Election Commission. There would be penalties of up to Rs 10 crores and jail terms of up to three year for failures to accurately report on and declare all receipts and expenditures related to political purposes. Penalties for making unauthorized political expenditures on behalf of another person would be increased to Rs1 crore along with a jail term of up to one year;
- state funding of elections (being retrospectivefor the elections that would have led to the formation of my government) would be introduced. Candidates who secure more than one-twentieth of the valid votes polled will be reimbursed Rs 25 for each vote polled on a formula linked to the population and geographical extent of the constituency, normalized to an assumed 100 per cent voting rate. Surveillance will be strengthened through video cameras in polling booths and other security measures taken, as well as very significant penalties imposed, on people who engage in booth capturing; and
- the security deposit for elections would be increased to Rs 5 lakhs from the current Rs 10,000, and forfeited when less than one-twentieth of valid votes are polled by a candidate. This lower forfeiture limit will allow many more candidates to contest, while the much higher security deposit will deter non-serious candidates.
Freedom Ministry and a New Constitution
- The Indian Policy Office (IPO) would form its core advisory area comprising policy professionals with demonstrated capability to analyse policy in relation to economic impacts and impacts on our freedom. The IPO will, by and large, hire new analysts through open competition, including Indians currently teaching economics and finance in the world’s top universities – these people will be hired on short or medium term contracts and paid salaries comparable to what they are currently drawing abroad. The idea is to suck back top class policy talent of Indian origin currently sitting abroad.This office will function as a division of the Department but will retain significant independence in its advice. The Minister for Freedom would provide the Cabinet with the IPO’s original advice, as well as his or her own comments and recommendations.
- A separate division of this department will review all existing laws to assess their compatibility with freedom.
- The department will coordinate all legislation required by this blueprint, particularly a new Public Administration Act and Superannuation Act by the ninth month.
- In Chapter 3, we saw how a new Indian Constitution can be fast-tracked. Processes to create a new Constitution will be put in place by the Department, such as convening a new Constituent Assembly with the approval of all the states within six months. The draft Constitution so prepared will be put to a referendum within six months of its completion. The task of translating the existing Constitution into relevant Acts would also be co-ordinated by the Freedom Department to ensure that, subject to the referendum being successful, the new Constitution would be able to take effect on or before the first day of the thirty-first month of my government.
- Surveys will be commissioned by the Freedom Minister through an independent organization to assess citizens’ views on the level of corruption and service delivery in various departments. Results would be published quarterly and inform the public self-reviews of Ministers as well as confidential performance reviews of secretaries.
[Note: This is an extract from my book, Breaking Free of Nehru]