Thursday, December 9, 2010

Men may come and men may go

For men may come and men may go, 
                            But I go on for ever.

Tennyson, when he wrote these immortal lines, could not have imagined how aptly they would one day describe the investigations that our agencies undertake into high profile cases of corruption, tax evasion, money laundering etc etc.  When an investigation is initiated, it blazes across the front pages of newspapers, TV anchors gush over the spokespersons of the investigating agency or the officers leading the investigation.  In the agency's Annual Report, or monthly performance report (when there is one), the investigation adds to the tally, and sometimes to the agency's glamour quotient. The top mandarins in the Ministries  concerned talk of it as if the investigation were being conducted under their direct and expert supervision, the political bosses make statements in Parliament, to the media, in all those forums where they need to have their stock raised a little (or more !). Arrests are made, truckloads of documents are seized, summons are issued, statements are recorded. 

One would expect such frantic activity to result quickly in Show Cause Notices, charge sheets, and attachment of ill-gotten property. One would expect the agencies to vigorously and assiduously pursue such cases and obtain conviction of the accused and confiscation of the property involved. One would expect news of such developments to be splashed in the media sooner than later. One would hope that such severe and prompt action would act as an effective deterrent for those inclined to treat the national exchequer as their route to numbered accounts in bank havens. One would be an imbecile to harbour such hopes and expectations! 

What happens really is that such investigations slide softly, smoothly, silently into a twilight zone, and hardly ever see the light of the day. There they rest, year after year, to be pulled out once in a while when some semblance of activity is to be demonstrated. The reasons for such woeful neglect of cases that should have been the focus of the agency's best investigative skills are manifold.

First and foremost, these are cases booked by the investigative agency not because it is fired by the zeal to do its job in the best possible manner, but because these investigations serve rather base political motives or because there is public pressure or an expose by the media. So the moment a compromise or conciliation between political foes is reached or the spotlight moves to another subject, the investigation gets pushed to the deepest recesses of the vast ocean that is "pending investigations". If a progress report is to be submitted to an august body such as a Joint Parliamentary Committee, stock phrases such as “the matter is being actively pursued” are copy/pasted month on month, year on year, and they actually pass muster! Some of these cases do make some headway –--- that’s mostly because the political regime has changed, or the spotlight has returned to an old case.

Even when there ceases to be a reason for the case to linger forever and ever, not much progress is made because most of our investigative agencies, notwithstanding the fact that they are given such appellations as ‘premier agency”, are terribly under staffed, seriously under trained, and lacking in a work culture that places premium not on “resourcefulness”, that euphemistic phrase that describes the ability to have strings pulled, but on delivery of outcomes. The scariest part is that we do not even publicly acknowledge these challenges, and continue to live in a make believe world where our sleuths are no less than the best in the world in terms of knowledge, skills, aptitude, dedication, and training.

Interestingly, at least some of these agencies have been placed outside the purview of the RTI Act. So if a citizen wishes to know 6 months from now what the status of the cases booked today against A Raja is, he could well be told that such information cannot be disclosed under the provisions of the RTI Act, either because the agency is excluded from the Act’s purview or because such disclosure would hamper the investigation!

So citizen monitoring is out of the question, but is any monitoring taking place at all? There are several hierarchical monitoring arrangements in place, including high sounding inter Ministerial Committees, but the truth is that there is scarcely any monitoring because accountability is not a phrase most bureaucrats and politicians are comfortable with.

If our federal investigating agencies could be made directly answerable to Parliamentary Standing Committees and the meetings/proceedings of the Standing Committees thrown open to citizens and the media, perhaps the situation could be redeemed. Perhaps we need the Supreme Court, the only institution with some credibility, to give such a direction.  

1 comment:

  1. we all know that there are many bureaucrats who given a chance can make a difference.....but then they are left to cool their heels for reasons well known to all...the most difficult part is how to turn the tide...and it can be done only if there is the will to do it at the top....sadly that seems to be not visible