Monday, 26 September 2011

I am Anna Hazare- V2.0

Ever since the last month’s frenzy over Anna and his fast, things may have changed, at least in the short run, even if its very little- a real-estate developer friend tells me that when he deals with urban planning authorities now-a-days, he senses that the sense of “entitlement” over bribes is lesser (though the bribes still need to be paid!).

But there is also a real danger that nothing much happens and we might be looking back a while from now and see this as a minor hiccup in India’s steady progress towards the top (?) in our ranking ,currently 83rd ,of the world’s most corrupt nations…

Implementing the Lokpal bill seems to be the one point agenda- and whilst focus is great, the question is, Is that enough? I think voices wiser than mine have weighed in on the overall merits of the bill, and don’t want to weigh-in on that, but there seems to be a rising consensus that Lokpal at the street level, will only impact months, if not years after implementation. And it will be dependent on people that staff it, even if they are accountable- the latin phrase “Quis custodiet ipsos custodies” springs to mind.

And yet, crowd power did force everyone in authority to listen to and accept what Anna and his cohort asked for. So to me, the key question is, what more can we do whilst the iron is hot, whilst the society will be listened to, and action will be taken, which might lead to a more sustainable path towards a corruption free India?

So what can be done? What else can we ask for? I think one direction to focus on, is to have a strident call to action for Transparency in specific areas that are very high touch to citizens.

I can hear you go- hey, what’s new here? We have been pushing for transparency forever, haven’t we? Yes, we have, and a huge success of one of these measures, which we perhaps owe all the exposure of the scams- CWG, 2G etc to, the RTI (the Right to Information) act was introduced in 2005 by Dr.Manmohan Singh – Isnt it ironic, that its his government that is bearing the brunt of RTI’s disclosure requirements?

But what I mean is, transparency, in the age of technology and the internet is like RTI on steroids- many people can process and make sense of vast quantities of information and bring that to public attention via 140 characters. If we are able to unleash this transparency on those specific issues that have “high everyday common man touch”, which impacts each of us everyday, we are on a MagLev/Bullet Train heading towards the promised corruption-free land. I have 3 examples to quote from the first world:

  1. 1- Education and The School League tables in the UK-When Britain decided to force their school education system to make public certain information- statistics how many students passed what grades, and at what levels, it created an entirely new industry on the internet of secondary data and reporting, and today, schools in the uk are entirely focused on their league rankings which determine which parents and students seek them out- an exemplar of how transparency in school performance has improved it
  2. 2- Policing and the Crime Graphs in cities- multiple cities are following this, but the key example I have to point out is what happened in the uk in February, when the government decided to make crime statistics public, and the website crashed because of the sheer volume of traffic.
  3. 3- Making accounts and spending at every level public – which means anyone can access howmuch a Panchayat/Ward, Taluk, District, Municipality, State etc has spent the last year, or historically- public scrutiny, coupled with aggressive media would keep the corporators, MLAs and MPs honest. Of course this sounds great but it is complex and requires some understanding of accountancy, and even with that, will be difficult to decipher with countless tables and numbers- but nevertheless, there are tools that can be employed (example, comparative between previous and current year’s spends on particular heads, comparative between different wards etc)

The key idea is if we are able to increase transparency in those areas that are high-touch to the aam admi, and accelerate the spread of that through the internet and mobile technologies, and open it upto other entrepreneurs who can make profitable businesses out of this data (e.g, homes for sale in low-crime neighbourhoods) would create a sustainable ecosystem where the demand for this data from everyday public would help create more need for transparency, and keep people honest. Amen to that!