Sunday, April 25, 2010

Tackling malfeasance : Politics vs Judiciary

There are many similarities in controversies surrounding Shashi Tharoor and P.D.Dinakaran. Both persons have allegedly betrayed the trust reposed in them, one as a minister and the other as a judge. Both stubbornly claim they are innocent. Perhaps they are; probably they are not. In piquant situations like these where the public perception is totally at odds with the personal claims, a quick solution by way of removal of people from positions of power is a dire necessity. This is mandated by demands of good governance.

Indian politics enlivened and energised by democracy has met this requirement in the case of Tharoor. No doubt the whole drama was played out while the parliament was in session and therefore it was politically inevitable for the prime minister to cut losses and oust the minister when Tharoor's deviation from norms was egregious. It also helped that Tharoor is a political light weight and is incapable of raising a revolt. Similar shenanigans by ministers with stronger power-base escape punishment for reasons of expediency. But atleast in some cases sleazy contretemps in the political space are resolved.

This unfortunately is not the case in judiciary. Removal (sometimes, even transfer) of an allegedly deviant judge is a constitutionally structured impossibility. A High Court or a  Supreme Court judge can be removed only through the self-dissolving process of legislative impeachment. A judge facing the impeachment proceedings has only to dig in his heels and refuse to proceed on leave. The process creates more embarrassment for the Supreme Court and the Law Minister than for the impugned judge. The judge has only to relax and watch the tamasha.

Women in corporate Boards

Noelle Lenoir, a former French Minister of European Affairs is quoted in Time magazine as saying, "One of the ways women are different from men is that we are more inclined to factor in social responsibilities and objectives along with business objectives and bottom lines. More women will alter the myopic financier thinking now dominating boards." This opinion is in fact commonplace. We are led to wonder if nature has endowed women with a responsibility gene that men apparently lack.

Though India is justifiably proud to have had women as prime minister, president, speaker of Lok Sabha, vice chairperson of Rajya Sabha, judges of the Supreme Court etc., Indian companies lag far behind many foreign companies in electing women to the board. Norway has legislated that atleast 40% of any company's directors must be female. In France and Netherlands, female representation in boards must be 40% and 30% by 2016. It is debatable if such quota-system is the way forward; but if male chauvinism continues to be so deep-rooted as it is today, there is perhaps no other option available to ensure that society is not denied the benefit arising from altruistically proactive conscience of women.

A moot question remains however asto whether women might shed the responsibility gene on joining the board. Is pressure of competition so intense that ruthless firebrands like Carly Fiorina (a former CEO of Hewlett Packard and now a probable Republican Senator) are not gender-dependent ?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Inter-regulatory tussle

The stand-off between SEBI and IRDA is an affront to norms of regulation and poses a rhetorical question asto who would regulate the regulators. Is it time to opt for a super regulator ?

SEBI has obviously jumped the gun and issued show-cause notices to insurance companies without taking IRDA into confidence. If regulators take delight in outwitting each other, can we expect the regulated to adhere to fairness in competing with one another ? SEBI is perhaps technically correct in viewing ULIPs as mutual fund products and therefore subject to its regulation also. SEBI ought to have convinced IRDA instead of issuing directions to insurance companies. Regulators need not indulge in games of oneupmanship.

The finance ministry could have tried to settle the turf issues posed by this episode instead of advising the regulators to approach the court of law. The ministry has only ensured that IRDA and SEBI are in for protracted wrangling over jurisdiction consuming their precious time which should better be used for regulation.

Shashi Tharoor's recidivism

Shashi Tharoor is at it again. He has an irrepressible urge to get into one controversy after another. This serial misdemeanour may be ignored if it is not at the cost of governance.

Unfortunately the Lakshman rekha has now been crossed and if published reports are correct, he has misused his ministerial position to help a close associate obtain IPL franchise. Aristocratic behaviour, experience at UN and proficiency in arcane usage of English words do not entitle a person to sidestep norms of governance. One would have expected that he would benchmark his conduct to much higher standards than what applies to other politicians. He has only delivered disappointments with disgusting regularity.

It is very likely that he would cease to be a minister anytime soon. In that case, his relations with the close associate would sour with celerity. That in turn would trigger another low point in his conduct. His inevitable fall is an object lesson for the rest of us.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Convocation gown

Seventh convocation of the Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal was addressed by Jairam Ramesh, Union Environment and Forests Minister. He dramatically took off his convocation gown asking, "Why can't we have a convocation in simple dress instead of coming dressed up as medieval vicars and popes?"

What if all graduating students had immediately doffed their gowns ? Such a major embarassment was averted as the students were sensible enough not to follow the minister's advice.

Solemn occasions deserve differential dress. If we extend the minister's argument, why should we have convocations at all ? Convocation address (assuming it serves some purpose) can be emailed to all students. They need not waste their time by being physically present at the convocation. Such over-logicalisation will strip all events of their significance.

One is curious to know if Jairam Ramesh attended his convocation at IIT-D in simple dress. Or has he become wiser only after becoming a minister ?

Shashi Tharoor's specious argument

It is not expected of ministers to debate publicly against government policies because such practices violate the collective responsibility for decisions taken by the government. Shashi Tharoor does this off and on and has now justified this sinister habit saying "Everybody else is doing it. Even the prime minister of Australia tweets. Foreign Secretary of Britain David Miliband tweets and U S Secretary of State tweets."

It is no one's argument that a minister should not tweet. All that is said is that no minister has a right to tweet or argue against the government policies. One wonders what the articulate minister aims to achieve by causing such time and attention consuming controversies in quick succession. Is there some pathological problem behind this attention-seeking behaviour ?