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IS IT NOT TIME THE PRIVATE SECTOR HAS AN RTI????

By Sanjay Jha

Is it not strange that everytime there is a massive scam ( and we have had several unfolding like serial launches of branded breakfast cereals, this year) we bring in the issue of “ misuse of taxpayers’ money”, euphemistically speaking, all public resources meant for a larger population, with or without a UID card. But why should this apply just to financial embezzlement involving government, public sector, bureaucrats and the politicians alone ?? Just why are we being so prodigiously accommodating of the hypocritical  private sector, which more often that not, has subtly or even blatantly engineered much of the locomotion of the gravy train which has quietly whisked away vital national assets ???

As I want to keep this piece pertinent and precise, let me just give a few examples, in brief: :

1)      As Rahguram Rajan , noted economist observed in his latest book Fault-Lines, in India we have witnessed how a few large private corporations have corned significant natural resources, particularly in the energy sector , mining and land through local, state and central government collusion. Sure, the RTI Act helps, but is it not true that the large companies who really benefit from these unethical practices usually get away with hardly a question raised about their mischievous intentions and monetary gains  ?

2)      Take the classic Satyam case,  as an example. Did not its extraordinary fraud become an explosive issue impacting employment, Indian IT industry reputation, and a sad commentary on corporate governance standards of India. Should it have been left only for company shareholder activists to protest about?

3)      In the case of the ongoing investigation into the mother-of-all-scams involving Telecom Minister A Raja aggregating an astounding Rs 170, 000 crores, which private companies have been hand-in-glove in making huge windfall gains? And are they not , by that sheer logic, robbing the common man of India his budgetary outlays? Any ordinary citizen of India has a right to demand the complete refund of the outrageous profits made on the 2 G spectrum sale.

4)      Shouldn’t corporate India also officially acknowledge when questioned about whether they employ corporate lobbyists, PR firms, liaison officers, as many are known to covertly “ influence” policy decisions? In the case of the 2 G scam, a well-known PR head honcho , whose firm was initially hired by the Tatas is been seen as a “key negotiator”, for example. Transparency, please????

5)      Let us face it, many have described SEZ’s as an euphemism for establishing a “ corporate zamindari” system , where Corporate India makes a huge financial killing on the “ real-estate” acquired through day-light connivance with our crooked “ official” brokers. Does not the common man deserve an explanation? What about those impacted immediately such as the  deprived farmer, tailor, barber, shopkeeper, school-teacher???

6)      After SKS Microfinance, should we not be sensitive to the negative repercussions of private-for-profit firms ( operating under the guise of “ social entrepreneurship”) on poor and desperate farmers? Can SKS just walk-away from the multiple instances of farmer-suicides? Is that not a larger RTI issue involving a national subject of farmer exploitation ?

7)      Why are we not entitled to ask some high-profile software majors on their controversial and hugely substantial “ land banks” acquired through generous transfers form friendly governments? Who gained, and by that logic, who were at the losing end of such transactions?

8)      What about the several high-profile real-estate companies that have amassed large property-mass  in a vicious nexus with our political class?

My point is that corruption and contraventions of the law of the land involves us all. A corrupt state mirrors a larger systemic malaise, a deeper virus embedded across and in all stakeholders. While public officials and political leaders must necessarily face the stinging  heat, we must also seriously investigate the real beneficiaries of these kickback-deals; India’s private sector players, many of whom remain cloaked in a self-righteous apparition, preaching lofty moral standards, but usually being its most malevolent , duplicitous exploiters.

In essence, it is not just the equity shareholder who should be allowed to question the company management in AGM’s  , but even the media and general public. Just about anyone who believes they have been wronged. Because even a private sector firm operates in a larger societal space and has certain community responsibilities. Nation-wide.

As India embarks ( thanks to an active media campaign ) on a hopefully passionate program to take on corruption at high places, it is time to acknowledge , and I am borrowing this phrase, “ that those who live in ivory glass towers usually change in their basement”. US President Barack Obama may have hit the rough patch on his popularity stakes, but can anyone really rationally argue against his public dressing down of Wall Street money-bags , slimy sharks and their shameless avaricious ways ??

Can India’s private sector take the bull by the horns and instead of giving sermonizing platitudes in five-star symposiums on transparency and corporate governance , actually do something about it???

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2 Comments on IS IT NOT TIME THE PRIVATE SECTOR HAS AN RTI????

  1. Who claims that the private sector should not be accountable? Why do you have to make this case at all in the first place?

    Why are you trying to deflect blame when no one has said that private sector should not be accountable?

    The public sector should be accountable and so should the private sector. Corruption is corruption. It is upto the laws of the land and the enforcement agencies to ensure laws are not broken in the private sector as well.

    1) Who do you think protects these private companies? You said it yourself – collusion with govt officials. Don’t you think that explains why they get away?

    2) Satyam case – the guilty is in jail without much fuss. Does that happen with govt officials? If Raju was in bed with a powerful politician and Satyam was not a company listed on the exchange, do you think that would have changed the odds of him being caught?

    3) Sure they are, bring the govt guy – Raja down and so will the private parties. See point 1 above.

    4) What are you trying to say? That the private sector should police itself? You should realize that there are industry regulators whose job it is to police atleast some of the industries and the private participants. It is also the job of the law enforcement agencies which are unfortunately blocked from doing their job by complicit politicians.

    5) Who is responsible for the SEZ policy?

    6) Private MFIs should be subject to strict regulations. Who do you think should be putting up those regulations?

    7) “generous transfers form friendly governments” – lol, see point 1, 4 above

    8) “vicious nexus with our political class” – see point 1, 4 above

    Couple more points:

    It is weird that we needed the RTI act to actually get public information! Instead, any information to do with public entities should be freely available by default except for some classified stuff (eg; defense) which in fact should also be freed up after some number of years/decades. The fact that we need the RTI for stuff which should be freely available is backwards.

    “Can India’s private sector take the bull by the horns”
    I’m unclear as to who you are addressing! Companies are accountable to their investors and that works just fine as far as private actions are concerned. If at all private companies partake in activities that cost the taxpayer, it cannot be done without help from public officials because public officials are the gatekeepers to public resources.

  2. Hello Sanjay Sir,
    I am Manish Kumar. I work for Hitachi Capital, based in Leeds, UK as a Risk Analyst. I am struggling to find your email ID on internet. Can you please send me your email ID on manish.k.choudhary2@gmail.com. I really like your views on cricket, politics and economy. I have done a very small piece of analysis on Sachin Tendulkar being better than Don Bradman and want it to be published on your website cricketnext.com. I know it’s a very basic analysis but might prove to be a strong case in clearing the air on the perception of Don being better than Boss (Sachin).

    Looking forward for your email.

    Thanks
    Manish
    16/11/2010

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