Chandy on a clean drive

Written by M Sarita Varma | Updated: Jun 14 2011, 08:23am hrs
Move over, Anna Hazare, Baba Ramdev and the other self-appointed anti-corruption messiahs. The Congress is out polishing its own transparency topaz in its coalition gaddi down south, as Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy vows to whistle a cheery tune, loud and clear, for all whistle-blowers against corruption.

In a catch-me-if-you-can tone, the 69-year-old chief minister has announced that all the proceedings in his chambers and office will be Webcast live. Chandys office will work 24/7, with a window ready to take SOS calls/complaints from citizens at any hour. In a virtual Damocles sword dangling over his Cabinet colleagues, most of them from coalition-partner parties, Chandy has also announced that his ministers would follow suit.

Transparency is the highlight motto in the action plan for the first 100 days of the Oommen Chandy government. Any whistle-blower will be treated with respect and pampered with rewards. In no way, the affected party will know who gave them away. We can give them complete police cover, in the model of CVCs whistle-blower protection policy, assured the chief minister.

There will a Financial & Social Pre-audit (FSPA) for all major development projects to ensure optimised spending of resources and to achieve targets. The Chandy government has started working out the tangles on major development projects like the R3,000 crore Kochi Metro, the Vizhinam Deepsea Terminal and the Kannur Airport, but they are likely to be back on the rails only after the 100-day plan roll-out. Since attracting private investment is a priority, the formation of two outfitsInvestment Promotion and Employment Creation Agency and Investment Advisory Councilhas been proposed.

GTech, a group of IT companies in Kerala, has mooted that private firms can do more in investment promotion of the state, than the government can on its own. We have also proposed an IT cluster to ramp up the rural IT employment landscape. The chief minister seems sold on the idea and may include it in the IT policy, which is to be readied within the first 100 days, says VK Mathews, president, GTech.

To harness young management brains in governance efficiency, the Kerala Cabinet plans a workshop in a tie up with IIM-Kozhikode. In the implementation of the NREGA programme, e-musters will be brought to play. A zero-delay system will be introduced in wage disbursement, so that the present 15-20 days wage arrears pile-up can be avoided.

As bold measures to sharpen the public delivery system, these initiatives are laudable, says G Vijayaraghavan, management consultant and analyst. At the same time, the citizens can also demand a periodic report card on the effectiveness of the transparency drive, he adds. To ensure transparency in purchase procedures, tender price bids will be displayed on the Website on the very day they are opened. Contracts and agreements will also be put up on the Website on the day they are signed. Major projects will have financial and social pre-audits to ensure there is a planned spending of resources and to achieve targets. Besides the chief minister and ministers, senior officers, the personal staff of ministers, family members of ministers, the advocate general and government law officers will also have to periodically reveal their assets on the Website.

The seasoned politician that he is, Chandys transparency-drive has its hidden agenda too. The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) is running the government on a razor-edge majority of just four votes. The Congress could not win even half of the seats that it contested. It is at the tender mercy of its coalition partners, like the Indian Union Muslim League and Kerala Congress (Mani), who have more comfortable wins, say Left leaders.

In fact, the first response from opposition leader VS Achuthanandan to Chandys 100-days plan was that it was the leaders of the coalition partners, allegedly caught up in scandals ranging from the ice cream parlour sex case to the irrigation project corruption case, who are calling the shots in the Cabinet. Achuthanandan asks, With corrupt ministers sitting left and right, how can Oommen Chandy advocate an anti-corruption drive

Curiously enough, this is exactly the point that the chief minister is sharpening with his transparency sword. The announcement of the first 100-days plan was made, almost in a road-show style, in the presence of all 20 ministers and leaders of the coalition. The anti-corruption statement is as much a strong message to possibly corrupt ministers in his flock as an effort to push up the bar of progressive democratic reforms. In other words, he is signing up the public to keep his heterogeneous ministerial team on its toes.

After watching the CPI(M)-led LDF government from the opposition bench for five years, he has also dropped his suave, soft-spoken style. Brandishing the whistle-blower plank, Chandys is a bid to usurp the recesses of the public psyche that 87-year-old former chief minister VS Achuthanandan occupies with his tireless anti-corruption scrooge image. This time, he may not shy away from a frontal attack on the CPI(M) veterans image, ordering a vigilance inquiry into the high-speed career growth of state government official VS Arun Kumar, Achuthanandans son.

For those who know Oommen Chandy from his student days and his passion for access to crowds, the 24/7 Webcasting of the chief ministers chambers is no surprise. A popular cartoon illustrates Chandy in his shower, with a voter curled up in the bathroom corner with a petition, saying Kunjhoonjhe (the name by which his villagers address Chandy), you carry on your shower, Ill read out my petition, while you are at it.

Asked if he was stretching the transparency demand too far, he says that Indias best piece of legislation in recent times was the RTI Act. My dream is that all governance details should be available to citizens on the Website, even without the need for applying through the RTI provision.

In its first 100 days, the UDF government is not panting after ambitious infrastructure projects. Instead, it is focused on making its presence felt on specific citizen interfaces where visibility is high and strategic interventions more tangible. The transparency plank is a spontaneous step for Chandinomics. For Chandy, the transparency drive pays not just in developing credibility, but in political posturing too.