Use wiki-ways to improve accountability

Dear Arvind Kejriwal,

Your Aam Aadmi Party has asked the public to suggest what should be in its national manifesto. This suggests a remarkable openness.You will find thousands of suggestions attractive, especially those appealing to one vote bank or another. Please ignore all except those relating to the one thing for which you have been elected—better governance. This means not just checking corruption but ensuring that teachers, health staff and civil servants deliver the services they are supposed to. Make that the core of your manifesto.

You were elected in Delhi for only one reason—you promised clean, accountable governance. You were not elected because you promised cheaper water or electricity. You feel obliged to implement these promises. But beware, they resemble giveaways of discredited Congress governments (like Gehlot’s in Rajasthan). The waiver of electricity arrears of wilful defaulters is exactly what the highly corrupt Rajashekhar Reddy did in Andhra Pradesh.

As you draw up a national manifesto for the Lok Sabha elections, you will be tempted to compete with other parties in offering freebies and concessions. Please resist the temptation . Once you start competing in freebies and job reservations , you will become just the latest rat in the rat race.

Remember, VP Singh and Morarji Desai were also swept to power by anti-corruption movements. They soon crashed because on coming to power they switched focus to other issues. Do not repeat their mistakes.

You want a stronger Lokpal to investigate corruption in high places. Fine, go ahead. But the aam admi is angry not just about huge scams in New Delhi but about corruption in and pathetic delivery of all government services—from the police, judiciary and administration to teachers, electricity staff and health staff.

For too long, politicians have provided lousy services and then sought to buy off angry voters with freebies. You must be different. Promise massive administrative reform to ensure that the aam admi gets the services he deserves.

Politicians may be corrupt, but have to seek re-election , and to that extent are accountable to voters. But civil servants are virtually unsackable, unaccountable and widely corrupt. You cannot change this overnight. But you can halt the growth of unsackable, unaccountable staff. Limited-term staff is more accountable and has a greater motivation to perform. So, go easy on making temporary workers in Delhi permanent. By all means raise wages for temporary workers if you think fit. But do not expand the tribe of non-accountable leeches.

What are the more sustainable long-run ways to promote bureaucratic accountability? You have devised one way: get the public to use sting operations to find the guilty. This can inhibit the corrupt. But it can also lead to false allegations and paralysis. Trade unions may use this as an excuse to launch strikes. If they do, stand firm and do not give in, as most chief ministers do. But also devise safeguards against false accusations.

Absenteeism is a curse and a crime against the poor. It is especially high for teachers and health staff in many states. Economist Karthik Muralidharan has estimated the cost of teacher absenteeism at Rs 9,000 crore per year. You must view this as a form of corruption or public theft. The aam admi hates it. You must seek to correct it.

Most chief ministers are wary of taking on teachers’ unions . Teachers can go on strike just before school exams, threatening the future of millions of kids and forcing CMs to surrender. Besides, teachers man most polling booths, and politicians fear that antagonized teachers may help the opposition to rig the polls.

Educational experiments suggest that the way forward may be to reward teachers who attend every day, while penalising those who are habitually absent. This requires good monitoring of teacher attendance, which has proved difficult so far. But your wiki-experiment in Delhi suggests a way forward. You can marshal citizen power to expose absenteeism. Citizens can send real-time videos through cellphones of empty classrooms to a grievance cell. This evidence should be used to cut the salary of errant teachers, and reward full attendees. The approach can be expanded to government offices of all sorts.

This is just one of many possible wiki-ways to improve accountability. Please improvise, and create many more.

Increasing job reservations for various castes (suggested by Yogendra Yadav) is a distraction. It is a return to the rat race. It will not improve accountability. But the wiki approach of citizen participation and exposure will. Make that your manifesto’s focus.

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