The government move to exclude the actions of the Members of Parliament (MPs) from the scrutiny of the upcoming corruption ombudsman, Lokpal, has rung alarm bells among the activists.
Avaaz, one of the NGOs supporting the movement, has launched a massive email and social networking campaign to encourage people to speak their mind on the issue.
“Now that the intense pressure brought by Anna Hazare’s hunger strike has subsided, the government is trying to starve the Lokpal, so that it either passes without any teeth or never passes at all,” Avaaz said in its mailer, sent out by the tens of thousands. It called the suggestion by government ministers in the Jan Lokpal Drafting Committee “a massive step backward.”
“The anemic Lokpal draft they presented would only govern a few senior bureaucrats — leaving all top elected officials, like the MPs involved in cash for votes scandals, to “self regulate”. Instead of a powerful body up to the task of tackling a massive problem, it would be a small bandage on a massive wound,” it urged.
The government ministers had, on Monday, suggested that actions of MPs “inside the Parliament” should be excluded by the scope of the bill. The primary motive for the government’s action was to make sure that the Lokpal does not investigate matters such as trading of MPs, shifting of parties from one alliance to another etc.., even if there are allegations that such moves were caused by payment of bribes. MPs are frequently accused of taking money from industry-houses to ask questions or raise issues inside the Parliament and such practices too will have to be stopped if the Lokpal gets authority to go into such matters.
“Should the conduct of MPs inside the Parliament (speaking or voting) be brought within the purview of the proposed Lokpal?” the Prime Minister asked in his letter to various chief ministers on Tuesday.
Critics of the government suggestion point out that the bureaucrat cannot be expected to remain honest if the elected politicians — including the ministers and MPs — remain corrupt. They therefore want the Lokpal to have the authority to conduct investigations into allegations that MPs took bribes to vote as they did.
In private, many MPs and the ministers of the Lokpal panel are downright petrified of a Lokpal with such powers. Under the current laws, even the Courts cannot investigate an allegation of an MP taking a bribe to shift his or her political alliance or voting.
Avaaz, an expert at Internet mobilization, is urging civil society to send a strong signal that MPs and ministers must be included within the scope of Lokpal investigations.
“A Government public comment process has just begun — let’s flood them with messages to show we’re still watching, and urge them to save the Jan Lokpal. If we harness this tool to immediately flood the Ministers with public comment demanding an effective Lokpal, we can revive this crucial anti-corruption legislation ahead of the final scheduled drafting committee meetings next week,” it pointed out.