Sunday 23 September 2018

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Politics | General

Cong sets up toothless Public Men's Corruption Commission

 

Goa got liberated from the imperialist Portuguese regime almost after 13 years of Indian independence. It suffered due to this in terms of social and industrial development, but not in developing on par with the rest of India in terms of corruption in public life. In fact, being a centre of international tourist destination, the corruption here is believed to be at a much higher level and across the national boundaries.

Probably this is the reason, the Congress government ruling the state for last 15 years is compelled to bring into force the Goa Public Men's Corruption (Investigations and Inquiries) Act, by setting up a commission to probe into corruption charges against the public men. After passing the act in 1988, it had been kept in a cold storage for last nine years, giving several excuses.

But as the public pressure was mounting on Chief Minister Pratapsing Rane to implement the act, the commission is now being set up, headed by a reputed retired high court judge Justice Gustav Philip Couto along with two other topmost lawyers - Charles Fereira Alvares and former public prosecutor G U Bhobe - as its members. They were sworn in last week, on the occasion of Rane's 58th birthday.

''It's toothless'', shouts the opposition while reacting to the setting up of the commission. ''Let it take shape slowly'', says the chief minister, while suggesting the media to highlight its shortcomings. ''It can't function efficiently without amending the act drastically'', shouts Goa PCC chief Nirmala Sawant. ''True, I have no powers to punish the guilty'', admits Justice Couto, while assuring the public to be totally impartial.

The much-publicised commission seems to be a mere recommendatory body as hardly any biting teeth it has been provided with. It caters to not only the top government and semi-government officials, but also the chief minister, ministers, MLAs, village panchas and councillors, board members of corporations, authorities and co-operative societies, office bearers of political parties and trade unions and even authorities controlling the university and government-aided educational institutions.

The public men, as per the act, have to declare their assets as well as of their family members every two years before the 'competent authorities'. But the rules framed to implement the act specify the competent authorities only for the officials, who are either the concerned ministers or the top bureaucrats. Even Justice Couto seemed confused before whom the others, meaning the politicians, would submit the statement of their assets.

Rane claims that they would submit it before the commission though the law does not provide for it. But what the commission would do if they fail to do so is still the ambiguity as the act does not provide for any authority to the commission to take penal action. ''Even the Public Servants Corruption Act provides for penal action'', points out Kashinath Jalmi, the state opposition leader.

Manohar Parrikar, the BJP's vociferous legislator, is however more worried about Justice Couto's statement that the commission's verdict cannot be challenged in any court of law or no court can entertain a similar kind of complaint. Justice Couto, if asked, keeps quite on whether the commission is on par with the Supreme Court. ''It's our constitutional right'', asserts Parrikar.

The act empowers any citizen to file a complaint by depositing Rs 500. But if the complaint is found to be false or vexatious, the commission can fine the complainant to the tune of Rs 25,000. But the same commission, if found a persons guilty of corruption charges, has no powers to take sue motto action. ''It's upto the government to take action. The act only provides for his immediate resignation'', admits Justice Couto.

''The commission should be above the government. Then only it will have meaning'', states Surendra Sirsat, president of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, the main opposition in the state. He wonders how the government can be expected to act against its corrupt ministers when the officers are known for succumbing to political pressure.

''Despite knowing that most of his ministers are deeply involved in corruption, the chief minister is maintaining silence simply to hold his seat of power. How in such a situation can one expect the CM to act against his corrupt minister even after the commission proves him guilty'', asks Parrikar. He seems to be confident that no politician would do it, knowing the level of politics today.

Though the BJP is fully critical of the commission, opposition leader Jalmi feels it premature to comment on its functioning before witnessing its performance, as the commission members are reputed people of the state, known for their integrity and honesty. Even Parrikar admits it, but also points out that one member - Charles Fereira Alvares - is having close political links with the government, as his son and the son-in-law are also appointed in honorary positions by the same government.

Despite all these facts and series of loopholes in the act, Jalmi feels, the act can prove effective if people are vigilant and come forward fearlessly to co-operate with the government. But the BJP has its doubts. To prove it, Parrikar points out at a petition ending before the high court of Rs 10-crore scandal against Irrigation Minister Dayanand Narvekar, who immediately after appointment of the commission requested the court to refer his matter to the commission.

Why Narvekar felt so confident about the commission than the high court is the question to think about, feels Parrikar.

Benefits of the Act
· Public men also include all politicians in or out of power and trade unionists.
· Every public man has to declare his and his family members' assets every two years.
· Complaint before the commission costs only Rs 500.
· Even letter written to the commission can be considered a complaint.
· Commission can take help of all government investigative agencies.
· Commission can issue search warrant, break open and attach the property.
· Public men must resign once corruption charges are proved.
Loopholes in the Act

· No penal action if assets are not declared.
· No competent authority specified for politicians to declare the assets.
· Complainant has to pay compensation upto Rs 25,000 if charges found wrong.
· No person can be compelled to submit evidence.
· Commission verdict cannot be challenged in any other court.
· No court can entertain similar kind of complaint after the commission's verdict.
· Commission can't entertain a complaint if public inquiry is on in similar complaint.
· No complaint can be filed after expiry of five years from date of offence.
· Not the commission, but the government, shall act against the person found guilty.






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