Bureaucratic bargains

Published: Friday 28 February 1997

according to an eminent agricultural scientist, when he first entered Krishi Bhavan (the headquarters of the agriculture ministry in New Delhi), an Indian Administrative Service officer who used to work there told him that he had discovered to his surprise that the building was not situated on the road to India's villages but on the road to Rome -- the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization (fao). Such a phenomenon is not unique to the agriculture ministry. Roads in the health ministry lead to Geneva where the World Health Organization is situated and those in the finance ministry lead to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund headquarters in Washington, dc. After a few years of work in these ministries, every bureaucrat starts looking for a plum job in international organisations.

The Deve Gowda government's nomination of the former secretary in the ministry of environment and forests (mef), N R Krishnan, for the post of executive director of the United Nation's Environment Programme (unep), shows that now even the mef has become a take-off point for places such as the unep headquarters in Nairobi, the Montreal Protocol secretariat in Montreal and the Climate Change Convention secretariat in Bonn.

Krishnan's nomination has gone onto the backburner with the one-year extension given to Elizabeth Dowdeswell, the present Canadian executive director, by the un Secretary General. But it, nevertheless, raises several ethical and procedural questions about the very process of government nominations to such plum posts. On what basis was Krishnan selected? What is the former environment secretary's claim to fame as far as protecting the environment goes? More importantly, has he done anything at all? Most environmentalists have not even heard of him. Is holding a chair and a position good enough a credential for being selected by Deve Gowda?

Krishnan's nomination only goes to show that such selections in the government are made on a preposterous who-knows-who basis and not on the basis of performance. This can only serve to give India a bad name. Besides, nominations of persons without proper credentials from will only give the North another stick to beat the South with. And, in this case, rightly so. Why can't India's political system pick up people from academia, from the scientific community or from the civil society who have worked all their lives on issues such as the protection of the environment and have made an impact? The us sent Gus Speth of the World Resources Institute to head the United Nations Development Programme and Kenya nominated Calestous Juma of the African Centre for Technology Studies for the post of executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Unfortunately, in India it is the bureaucrats who matter -- even if they do not have a grounding in the issues involved.

The key reason is the nexus that exists between politicians and bureaucrats. It is well known that politicians cannot indulge in corrupt practices without the connivance of bureaucrats. Thus, politicians further their interests by offering pliable or influential bureaucrats the dream of plum international jobs -- an iou that the politicians can encash later.

There is also a question of conflict of interests entangled in the issue. Many bureaucrats who were once involved in negotiations at important world fora on behalf of India are now working with the very secretariats set up as a result of those negotiations. Are India's representatives at these fora there to promote the country's interests or do they use such opportunities to ensure that they get a plum job in resulting international organisations? What interests of India do they soft-pedal to gain personal entry into the arena of the un? Maybe they don't, but surely the government must have some rules for its own staff to avoid such a conflict of interests? Recent examples include those of India's chief negotiator during the negotiations for the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, who became the deputy director general of the World Trade Organization soon thereafter, and India's permanent representative at the un in New York, who joined the un the day after his retirement. Similar self-promotion has also taken place repeatedly in the fao.

This practice must be checked immediately. Such incidents only highlight the corruption in governance. There must be a code of conduct for government officers and there must be mechanisms in place for ensuring that they follow through. If either of these things are not there already, the government must act now and act quickly to instal them.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.