"Dissent, turf war undermine public procurement revamp
23 June 2011shiv karan singh
NEW DELHI/BHOPAL, 23 JUNE: Attempts to reform the mother of all official corruption, the public procurement system, have encountered stiff resistance from bureaucrats out to defend their rent-collecting turf. With the Lokpal and black money issues generating heat, the abuse of discretionary powers by both elected politicians and unelected officials has got pushed under the carpet ~ public procurement revamp is the latest point of the UPA agenda on corruption to hit a false note.
On 16 June, after two extensions, the 11-member committee set up to recommend an overhaul of government procurement submitted its 17-chapter report. Its recommendations have been forwarded to the Committee of Secretaries for further deliberations before they will be put up to the GoM on corruption.
According to sources, however, the report has been forged in meetings that witnessed highly contentious sessions. A total of five dissenting notes have been appended to the final report. Members of the panel representing major spenders ~ Defence, Central Public Works Department and Railways in particular ~ have opposed the idea of changing prevailing procurement procedures to encourage competition in line with best international practices.
Readers will recall The Statesman has published over a dozen reports on the ruses put in place to restrict competition, inflate prices and turn a blind eye to corruption in Railways procurement, for example. The resulting losses in supply contracts exceed Rs 50,000 crore over the past 10 years. Yet, an official source disclosed, in front of the panel the Railways argued that its approval system and purchase procedures need no change! Attempts to contact Mr S Chandrasekaran, the Railways’ representative on the panel, were unsuccessful. Other major procuring departments have taken a similar stand.
When questioned about the stubbornness displayed by these departments, chairman of the panel Mr Vinod Dhall admitted to differences. “Some people feel the present system is serving the purpose adequately,” said Mr Dhall. Ms Ajanta Dayalan, representing the Cabinet Secretariat on the panel, is reported to have sided with the views of Railways, Defence and CPWD. “There is no question of friction,” Ms Dayalan told The Statesman, adding: “A system that has been working and in place for quite some time should not, for some instances here or there, be decried.”
But the panel ended its work on a sour note. Mr SC Sharma (former DG, Road Development), Mr MP Gupta (Former Additional Secretary, finance ministry) and Mr Gajendra Haldea (Advisor, Planning Commission) refused to sign the final report submitted to the Cabinet secretary on 16 June. The three members are believed to be the major architects of the report. The immediate reason for their action appears to be that (yet another) dissent note did not find place in the final report.
While resistance by vested interests and petty bickering has marked the initial stage of procurement reform, the nation continues to lose vast sums due to uncompetitive, non-transparent, and corruption-promoting procurement. Counting the Union and state governments, PSUs and municipal bodies, India spends around 30 per cent of its GDP on purchasing goods, works, and services ~ which amounted to around Rs 24 lakh crore last year. According to estimates, on average, corruption in procurement accounts for losses between 20-30 per cent of procurement value worldwide. With no unifying law on procurement, no simple procedure of making recoveries for fraud and over-pricing, shoddy planning, manifest bid and specification rigging, rampant cartelization and kickbacks being the norm, losses in India are well above average.
Even a conservative estimate of 30 per cent losses, however, would mean the nation lost over Rs 7,00,000 crore in public procurement last year, more than four times the CAG’s estimate of 2-G Scam losses to the exchequer. Such squandering of public wealth in a trillion-dollar economy continues whilst nearly every second child under the age of five is malnourished."
The proposed LokPal will hardly have anything to do with the real evil (roots of corruption) as brought out above or other lesser or greater such evils. To name a few:
1. The rotten judicial system
2. Students with 90% marks having to resort to fake caste certificates to get admission to good colleges.
3. The fleecing of miserable patients by the private hospitals and nursing homes. To get treatment in Govt hospitals will be an ordeal.
4. Corruption among authorities dealing with land and real estate.
The list could be endless.
Already there are a number of institutions to deal with the problems LokPal is supposed to deal with. Only the existing institutions have failed miserably and some people believe that LokPal will be a miracle body with miracle remedies at its command. They simply forget that if all corrupt Indians were to be put behind bars, the cities will have to be transformed into jails. "Just as we can't know when fishes swimming in rivers drink water, we can't make out when officers executing works misappropriate money." This is what Chanakya said as long back as 3rd century BC. While LokPal aims at catching the corrupt, the need is to have systems and a social structure in place such that there is more motivation for one to be upright than to be corrupt. The present scenario in India not only motivates but urges one to be corrupt. What I am hinting at is an enormous overhaul of existing systems and may be Constitution itself. I know it is easier said than done. But that is necessary if we really want a just society and a political system to sustain that. Where there is will, there is a way. To be obsessed with additional legislation and hope for miracles as a result is nothing but pure lunacy.