Civil society and corruption

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It has been years since the Rights to Information, RTI, Act was implemented in the state, and as is its wont, with a dose of fanfare. However, in the years that have passed by, it has also been so successfully ensured that all voices seeking government transparency are silenced. The Act which was at the time of its inception, described as arguably the best anti-corruption legislation ever, remains largely unused in the entire country, except in pockets where conscientious and enlightened citizens have taken the best advantage of it to make government policies and the policy making processes as transparent as possible. It is quite a surprise that while there is a deluge of social organizations and NGOs in the state, pushing so many varied issues, none have found policy transparency, and corruption resulting out of the lack of it, important enough to reserve some focused attention. This understandably also suits the government and its machineries well. Years ago, it nervously constituted the mandatory Information Commission, and then probably heaved a sigh of relief that nobody is interested in it. It must be said the government contributed guilefully to making the State Information Commission redundant by default. As per the RTI Act, the government is called upon to publicize the Act`™s applications widely so that every citizen gets to learn them, and empower themselves with the Act adequately, though very simply and inexpensively, to challenge corrupt practices of the powers that be. Today, hardly anybody knows the mechanics of this Act, and most remain overawed and desist from approaching the Information Commission, presuming understandably, it is only another part of the same forbidding bureaucratic castle.

This being the case, it is still an open secret that official corruption is still rampant, and yet, none of these issues is ever brought up before the Information Commission. It never seems to occur to even those many who know of the Act, that these cases of possible official corruption can be dug out and made open, therefore checked. Except in the case of a few subjects, no government files can be withheld if sought through the prescribed procedure of this Act, although it must be added, the list of protected subjects seems to have grown inordinately in the decades that have gone by. The failure to check official corruption despite this legal handle, in our opinion, is yet another evidence of either the resignation or complicity of the elite of our society in this corruption scourge. Between their knowledge and their actualization, still falls the infamous shadow described by TS Eliot in `The Wasteland`. Despite being the custodians of knowledge, they remain un-empowered and to that extent, cowardly, turning into incorrigible cynics, perpetually complaining and fretting in private, but never bold enough to come out of their intellectual ennui to take the bull by the horns, as they say. And so, even as those in the Information Commission are left to fight the boredom of having nothing to do, even those who complain of being victims of official corruption, only fume and fret, and do nothing.

Meanwhile, Manipur continues to sink deeper into the abyss in many different ways because of the culture of self-obsession of the government. There is no gainsaying that most employees have paid heavy bribes, which are today almost mandatory, to enter their services and later for plumb postings, and are unabashed about their intent to recover what they have paid as they have paid. In this way, the entire government service sector has become self-serving and the very meaning of the word service has come to be skewed beyond recognition. Today, it is as if the government is meant only for government employees, concerned about salary hikes and perks of employees, and nothing beyond. Other than a few shining examples, private entrepreneurships have been condemned to remain stunted because the tertiary pillar of the economy government services are supposed to provide are non-existent. This despite the knowledge that the government job ceiling has already been touched and it cannot absorb more job seeker with benefit. The only solution to the growing unemployment problem in the state, under the circumstance, nobody will doubt, would have to be through an expansion and maturing of private entrepreneurships. Yet the government would rather have them bound down to the contractor-patron relationship, virtually making them run pillar to post to seek their entitlements, and by the same notorious contractor-patron culture, seeking percentage cuts from their earnings. We also wish that the NGO sector in the state, which is known for flocking to where donor funds are, would also be a little more pro-active, and start paying some attention to the use of available legal tools such as the RTI, to challenge and expose corruption. Until such a time as the RTI becomes very familiar and therefore everyman`™s weapon, it would be extremely helpful if organised civil society bodies were to take on the responsibility, in collaboration with the media as force multipliers, if need be.

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