Rebooting institutions

I came across this interesting and insightful (as usual) interview of Dr. Pratap Bhanu Mehta of the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi carried by MINT Asia. This particular observation caught my attention and made me reflect on it:

You will have to reboot institutions and institutional practices, although you have to be careful about using the word institutions in the Indian context. Politicians are using the word institutions as a way of displacing responsibility.

Somebody has to take decisions for these institutions to be rebooted—someone has to say very clearly that we don’t do business this way any more. So, in that sense, there is a role for the political leadership.
I am glad that he added this clarification because institution building is so nebulous and abstract for many. A lot of people talk about respecting and building institutions but never choose to go further. Institutions are not self-created. Humans  – with all their faults – have to do the job. Politicians in office have a greater responsibility. It is a hallmark of leadership to build and nurture institutions that outlive themselves and their successors and that function with a degree of autonomy and competence so that when politicians (or, rulers) are confused and are looking for direction, the institution provides the anchor, the continuity and the wisdom. Good institutions, thus, play a big role in good governance and in maintaining and enhancing social stability.
Here is a (partial) list of the tasks involved in good institution building:
(1) For example, if the Parliament is to enact good laws that stand the test of time and fairness, then Parliamentarians must be law-makers and not law breakers. They must be qualified (and not just in their educational attainments) to pass laws that they expect citizens to comply with. So, they should not be criminals.
(2) They should respect their status as members of the Parliament and attend sessions. They should prepare for debates as students are expected to do, for their assignments.
(3) They should appoint competent people for regulatory authorities. Regulatory institutions should be insulated from political influence.  Decisions of regulatory institutions should not be tampered with, by politicians. Aggrieved parties should be encouraged to approach the proper appellate channels rather than expect the executive to overrule regulatory authorities.
(4) Government should set an example in complying with regulatory authorities’ directives
(5) Government should not make the tenure of regulatory authorities an instrument to coerce them to make arbitrary decisions.
(6) The government should not litigate citizens and the courts till the last drop.
(7) Government must set an example in honouring Supreme Court judgements. Laws should not backdated to overrule or annul the judgements of the highest court of the land.
(8) The government must consult the Leader of the Opposition on key decisions, legislation and appointments even if there is no formal need for it.
(9) Regulatory institutions and the judiciary must set an example in transparency of conduct, fairness of rulings and in accountability as they expect the regulated, to do so.
(10) Processes of appointments to judiciary, to technocratic institutions and to regulatory authorities should be insulated from political processes and the criteria for selection should be as transparent, objective and clear to the public.
(11) The government should not voice opinions on what the regulatory authorities should be doing nor should the government pre-judge their actions and decisions.  Those are coercive behaviour.
(12) The government and politicians must respect the constitutional checks and balances and allow such agencies to do their jobs while responding to their criticisms/observations in a dignified manner as per procedures laid down.
In sum, respecting institutions’ processes and decisions are important aspects of nurturing them.
Those who aspire for leadership positions should be questioned on their commitment to the above and they must subject themselves to scrutiny of their conduct in these aspects. It should be a rather important component of evaluation of their performance.
This must be an acid test of those who aspire for leadership position at all levels of government – Prime Minister, Chief Ministers, Mayors, Panchayat leaders, Chief justices, regulatory chiefs and heads of technocratic institutions (e.g, RBI), etc.

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