Open Government

The inauguration of the newly constructed Vigilance Commission office building near Nagaland Civil Secretariat, Kohima on 2nd June 2006 and the reported move to house the newly constituted State Information Commission members in the old Vigilance building are two related incident which is symbolic of the ‘anti-corruption’ drive mantra trumpeted no end in particular by the political establishment. ‘To fight corruption’ has always been a favorite catch phrase for politicians in the State. While such well founded concern is welcomed at a time when there is an urgent need to address the issue of corruption dogging the State, it is open to question as to whether the political elites are really sincere to confront the problem itself. 

That both the Vigilance Commission and the State Information Commission (SIC) are vital for the development of an open and accountable system of governance only reiterates the need to encourage the establishment of vibrant democratic institutions that will hopefully stand as a bulwark against the increasing tide of a corrupting culture that threatens to engulf the entire system. The institutionalization of corruption can only be uprooted through the process of instituting strong pillars of democratic functioning. In this sense, both the commissions are important in their own way towards this end. 

While the newly instituted State Information Commission (SIC) is yet to prove itself, a serious doubt however still persists in the minds of many people on whether the State Vigilance Commission (VC) can deliver the goods. It is highly unlikely that the Commission will be able to function in an independent manner given that the Government of the day has a virtual sway over the Commission with a Secretary appointed by the State government. Even the rationality of the Chief Secretary holding the overall post of Vigilance Commissioner defeats the very purpose of having an independent, impartial Vigilance Commission to act as a watchdog of the government machinery. 

It is good news to hear that the Commission has already started the task of unearthing cases of corruption such as the pension fraudulent drawal cases, which has enabled the State Government to reportedly save about Rupees 12 Crores annually and also its efforts in the NPSC corruption case. There is however still much that needs to be done in terms of fully gearing up to be an active vigilante and broadening its area of operation into other explosive minefields that is waiting to be resolved. The big question is whether the cadres from the Vigilance Commission will be able to go after the bigger fishes as well. It needs to be commented here that it was highly inappropriate for the Chief Minister to have been chosen to inaugurate the new Vigilance Commission building, being the political head of the government. It would stand to reason that the Commission after all may not be able to stand the test of maintaining greater financial, administrative and functional independence.

Given this lack of faith in a system patronized by politicians the only silver lining is the revolutionary Right to Information Act already in force in Nagaland. What is most encouraging is that the Act aims to bring about transparency and accountability in the system by transforming the people themselves as watchdogs. As such the Info Act is something that politicians who are corrupt should fear most. And hopefully corruption will no more be a ‘low risk high profit business but rather a ‘high risk low profit business. Information is indispensable for the functioning of a true democracy. Open Government is the new democratic culture of an open society towards which other States are moving and Nagaland should be no exception.