Some bureaucrats seem to have meshed the virtues of

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Some bureaucrats seem to have meshed the virtues of public service with private profit in retirement . They expose themselves to a potential conflict of interest — which when working in government is not automatically linked, in actions and perceptions, to corruption. Instead, when whistleblowers and leaders with a conscience ask pertinent questions, terms such as “anti-growth” and “anti-investment” are used to target them. To solve this conundrum, it is important to understand the scale of the problem, determine the right legal mechanism to deter and work towards changing our lackadaisical cultural norms on conflict of interest. Vested interests have increasingly captured regulatory boards — consider the case of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India . This regulator is theoretically supposed
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8 | Page 9004418746 [email protected] to be independent in monitoring food safety and yet, until 2014, industry representatives were regularly been appointed to scientific committees. It’s not that there are no policies against this on the books. India has an official policy, regulated by the Ministry of Personnel, whereby senior bureaucrats have to seek permission for commercial employment after their retirement. However, such grants of permission within cooling-off period depend primarily on government discretion, with no codified mechanism. There is nothing wrong in letting experienced bureaucrats utilise their expertise in the private sector — if adequate rules are framed and followed that enable the elimination of any conflict of interest. We need legislation to make non-disclosure of a conflict of interest punishable. As with E.M.S. Natchiappan’s private member’s bill (The Prevention and Management of Conflict of Interest Bill, introduced in 2012) , the legislation ought to cover all arms of governance, including the judiciary, the legislature and the executive. The recommendation of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Department of Personnel and Training (Report No. 60 dated May 3, 2013), calling for early retirement if interested in post-retirement private service is established, needs to be implemented, besides increasing the mandatory cooling period to five years so that no undue influence can be exerted by the retired bureaucrat. Also, the reasons for declining their requests for joining such firms need to be laid out clearly, to limit political concerns. A culture of transparency needs to be fostered . It is not enough to simply have a non- public register of member’s interests for legislative representatives. Bureaucrats, retired and current, should talk openly about their post-retirement plans. Public disclosure of their interests would clear the air, enabling their views to be given appropriate merit . An open, public data platform enlisting all post-retirement appointments of civil servants will increase transparency. If we seek acknowledgement of conflict of interest in the corporate
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