Rebutting Nitin Pai’s article saying LokPal is a bad idea

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Let me begin with saying that I have a lot of respect for Nitin Pai and his insight into world and country matters. However, on the subject of the LokPal, I do think he has the wrong end of the issue. I acknowledge right here, that his article and this response to it are both opinions based on our understanding. Neither of us has the power to accurately predict the future. However, it is through listening/reading and responding to opinions that one refines them.

I find it important to refute, because Nitin Pai is the editor of Pragati, a publication on strategic affairs, public policy & governance and his opinion on such matters holds weight and I see very concerning logical flaws in the thought he promotes on this subject.

Of necessity, I am reproducting much of the article as quotes, the original, uninterrupted article may be found here.

Don’t fall for the miracle cure that is being offered. Corruption must be fought differently and it’s not easy.

LokPal is being labelled a miracle cure, which is neither the claim made by proponents, nor a known expectation of supporters. It makes it appear to be a fraudulent idea, but actually there is little evidence provided to justify this label being slapped. In fact, all people speaking for the JanLokPal actually speak of it being a long battle ahead. The JanLokPal is proposed as a tool to facilitate challenging misconduct in the government, not a fix for all ills. The people understand this well – at least all supporters I have had conversations with on this subject. I haven’t met anyone who thinks the LokPal is intended as a miracle cure other than critics.

Adding one more, huge, powerful layer to an already complex system will make the system even more complicated.

Another prediction which has no basis in precedent. In all situations where an ombudsman is offered, it has provided a much needed interface for the common man to resolve issues and be heard. Be it Hongkong, or corporations. I have not seen instances where an ombudsman adds complexity to the functioning of a system. In fact, I have not seen ombudsmen who are part of the functioning at all – they are essentially a parallel process of quality control and redressal of grievances – for lack of a better word. I fail to see how it complicates an existing system’s functioning.

The alternative is to proceed with second-generation reforms, or Reforms 2.0. Contrary to conventional wisdom reforms have reduced corruption, albeit by moving it to higher up the government. In 1989 an ordinary person would have to pay a bribe to get a telephone connection. By 2005, there was no need to pay a bribe at all and anyone could get a phone in minutes. Yes, 2010 saw the 2G scam in telecoms, but that was because the UPA government reversed the reform process.

Unfortunately, the reversal is also an example of how easily the country’s interest can be sabotaged, and in the current climate, I think it is unrealistic to expect the civilians to trust that the opposite of what has happened will happen. And the 2G scam is in telecoms, but there are literally scams coming out of the woodwork, and not one exceptional situation due to one erratic act as it seems to be presented.

In fact, data show that perceptions of corruption are lower in some sectors of the economy, usually those that have been liberalised.

This may be true about perceptions of corruption in everyday lives, but it is quite irrelevant to what the JanLokPal is addressing, and corruption in the government is most definitely being perceived at an all time high.

There is little evidence to prove that Hong Kong has low corruption because it has an Ombudsman. On the contrary, there is empirical evidence from across the world suggesting that countries with high economic freedom are perceived to suffer from less corruption.

Hong Kong is one of the freest economies of the world, and therefore, incentives for government officials to be corrupt are relatively low. The Ombudsman is useful to address the residual corruption in economic sectors and in sectors like law enforcement that do not have discretionary powers over economic sectors.

The implication these lines seem to lead to – that the Hong Kong ombudsman is largely redundant – is not actually backed by anything, though it gives the illusion of being so. I cannot imagine this is true, particularly if an issue of government misuse of authority were to come up. There is also little evidence to prove that in the absence of an ombudsman, corruption levels would remain unchanged – is the part missing.

We have not really demanded them [economic reforms] at all, actually.

The assumption here is that economic reforms will fix corruption, based on data of economies presented. Fair enough. I don’t much understand the world of economics, so I would be foolish to comment on this, except that there are numerous people who keep recommending and asking for economic reform. There has been unending talk on inflation, people have made entire writing careers advocating economic reforms, people have gone on strikes over prices, people have criticized red tape and related difficulties for business ad nauseaum. Where is all this on the national political agenda? Is there any specific kind of asking meant that we should have done?

The constituencies that stand to benefit from economic reforms—the middle class—needs to vote in larger numbers. In the absence of the middle class vote base, politicians appease the poor by giving handouts and entitlements, and cater to the super rich by allowing the crony sector to exploit the half-reformed economy.

The assumption here is that politicians will not appease middle classes? Witness the numerous staunch defenders of various political parties on the internet where I found this article promoted – overwhelmingly middle class. Before the middle class is mobilized as per recommendation, political parties have already set up camps by providing the best free appeasement – intellectual miracle cures. If that doesn’t work for some reason, other appeasement will happen. It is unrealistic to assume that if we act in a certain way to challenge something, the entity being challenged will become a spectator to our efforts.

Voting is no miracle cure either for getting good leaders. The parties with the most at stake are also parties with capacity and incentive to promote agendas. Sure, voting well is always a good idea, but a vote not given is better than a thoughtless vote or a vote for the sake of voting when no option is trustworthy. I fail to see how peddling one miracle cure to undermine another is logical.

Whatever may be the claims made by the people promoting Lok Pal, there is no miracle solution. They are peddling miracle weight-loss pills. Sadly, such pills usually don’t work and can cause severe damage to your health. If you are cautioned not to take those pills, you can’t ask “which other miracle weight-loss pill do you recommend”? The answer is in diet and exercise, which is hard work.

What does it mean to choose a metaphor and criticize it and provide alternatives based on a criticism of an assumption? Word count? I can replace LokPal with “Middle Class votes” and it will still sound very nice complete with diet and exercise – very middle class interests. Clever. Nice. Factual? Who knows?

The problem with Jan Lok Pal is that it’ll make the problem worse. Does anyone seriously think we can hire tens of thousands of absolutely honest officials who will constitute the Lok Pal? Who will keep watch on them? Maybe we need a Super Lok Pal, and then a Hyper Lok Pal to watch over the Super Lok Pal and so on…

Trending assumptions. Good fun. Nothing whatsoever so far that Lok Pal will not work as intended. I have no proof that it will either. I don’t know the future. What I know is thatwhat we have is not working and no fix attempted so far came to these levels of support, or this close to causing change. That, more than anything else reassures me. There is the strength of collective belief. Not as dazzling as intellectuals, but far more real in terms of tentative hope. Not of a fix, but of having a way of being able to fix what is needed.

The other thing is two things any Organization Development / Systems Thinking  professional will be able to confirm.

  1. It is easier to create a new organization/system with its new core values and work to maintain it true to them than it is to fix a system with many exploits and many well established processes including them. Lack of dependency on existing malfunctioning systems allows more energy to be used toward objective, and less required for maintaining integrity. It is false to assume that a well designed ombudsman will fail because existing systems are corrupt. Or that it will fail to an unrecoverable extent before any correction can be made.
  2. From a systems thinking perspective, the LokPal intervenes in the system at a point where least effort can bring most results, while the so far unattempted alternatives have the defective system running in its habitual loop and plan for the intervention to happen at points where massive force will result in minimal results. The kind of mobilization these alternatives will require depends on too many wild cards and there is absolutely no evidence that the population is inclined to act like that at all – as in, vote a lot via middle class or demand economic reforms. Most certainly not with the intensity that will be required to shake a well established system out of a defective pattern. On the other hand, the Lok Pal aims to hit the system at the point of defect, with limited scope and dependency on far fewer wildcards. The support it receives from society – which actually wouldn’t even be necessary for functioning once established is massive, making it more likely to translate into actual action.

Again, I don’t know the future and I am not talking absolutes, but probability, but I see this as a gamble that could work, from what I know of people and systems. I could be wrong, and getting the opinion of others familiar with these models could be a good idea.

There is a reason why the unconscious perceives the LokPal as such a massive hope or miracle cure – both equally inexplicably – because the observations of human interaction we absorb all our lives recognize it as something that could work dramatically. Whether we see this as a good thing or a bad thing depends on the decision we have made to approve or disapprove.

This isn’t sarcasm, this is the logical extension of the Lok Pal argument.

I failed to see the logic. I saw sarcasm, but you say it wasn’t.

But it’s not about whether we have the right or not. It’s about are we using that right wisely. (You have the freedom of speech but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to blast Eminem using a loudspeaker at 2am in a residential district.)

In the example you provide, it is about whether we have the right or not. It is illegal to use loudspeakers in a residential district at 2 am.

As Ambedkar said while introducing the Constitution in November 1949, once the Constitution came into force, we should avoid all non-constitutional methods like protests and satyagraha, for they are the grammar of anarchy. If two persons go on fasts until death for two opposing reasons, we cannot decide the issue by allowing one person to die first.

I doubt if Ambedkar meant to not use unconstitutional measures if the government fails to safeguard our rights. That was an era of a diverse people coming together. There were differences of opinion, and the country had lived through the Partition riots. When a democracy uses Satyagraha against its own government, what does it mean? A satyagraha with representation from every kind of people in the country.

Fast until death is political blackmail. It is a form of theatre engaged in to coerce the government into doing something that the agitators want. Whatever may be the cause, a single person cannot be allowed to dictate laws to the whole nation.

I certainly was respected more when we used it to get freedom. Why the double standards?

Outright lie a lie to say “a single person cannot be allowed to dictate laws to the whole nation”. This is a movement. Anna is a leader, not lone cowboy robbing country at gun point. He is the main leader among very many visible leaders, supporters and participants including people fasting with him. Nor are any laws dictated. There are specific interests outlined that must be accommodated in the interests of safeguarding the people’s right to benefit from their national resources. The Joint Committee broke up and ended up with two separate bills. The fight is now for this bill to reach the parliament, which shouldn’t have been a fight at all, since it was an output of the joint committee. Why table one of the bills and not the other? The fight is for a fair consideration, not dictation of law. The parliament still has to approve it into law. This is evident and public knowledge, and it is misleading to describe it in a manner it is not in order to create a less respectable image.

So being an armchair intellectual is not a disqualification.

You shouldn’t trust intellectuals or activists because of what they are. You should examine their arguments and make your own judgement. Most of the people supporting Lok Pal have not examined what the proposal is, have not tried to consider opposing arguments and blindly accept it as a solution because some famous people said so.

With due respect, this applies to both sides of the debate. There is no one god gifted side that can be taken without consideration, but surprisingly, the recommendation of skepticism is one way.

Also, the supporters of JanLokPal have a larger diversity and number of people who think it is a great idea, including armchair intellectuals. I think a starting point of owning opinions and preferences as such rather than presenting them as undisputed truths helps us all find better choices.

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I have not addressed a few points, which are clearly choice or opinion rather than a seeming expert presentation of facts. Again, apologies for copying a large part of the article. For what it is worth, I have tried to keep it so that it doesn’t amount to the whole article directly being readable here, and I reference it again. To read the full version, please find it here.

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About the Author

Vidyut
Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut

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