My Viewpoint: Kanwar Sandhu;
While political parties and governments in our country often talk of honesty and accountability, the fact is that most of them only pay lip service to these virtues. The Amarinder Singh-led Government thought that the government of Parkash Singh Badal was guilty of wasting public funds. Likewise, the AAP Government led by Bhagwant Mann prima facie holds the Amarinder Singh government of wasteful expenditure. Ask the two previous regimes and they would vouch for their honesty and integrity. They all believe in the maxim, my cause is holier than thou! And sadly there is none to take an objective view of who exactly is upholding the virtues of ethics, propriety and accountability.
The undeniable fact is that the extended Badal family, which included some members of the Majithia and Kairon families, was neck-deep not in politics but also in business. What is more, they had no qualms in liberally mixing the two. Sadly there was no conflict of interest bill to hold them accountable for their deeds of misdemeanour and more. The previous Chief Minister had four ministerial government houses for official and personal use. Under what rules was this done? What is more, he decided to stay in none of them and made his nearby farmhouse his official abode. Has there been an audit on funds spent on upkeep, and maintenance of each of these houses, besides the day-to-day operational expenditure? Besides, irrespective of the personal relationship of a former CM with his lady friend from another country, the question that needs to be asked is: how was a foreign national allowed unfettered access to his official residence and thereby presumably to the files that went in and out? Sadly, neither the SAD-BJP nor Congress tried to check blatant corruption within their own ranks. The office of the Lokpal has proved to be nothing but a sinecure post. In fact, both the previous regimes glossed over numerous instances of corruption, which proved to be their undoing in the last elections.
The buck does not stop at the previous incumbents. What was the element of official contribution and government help in the roadshow of the ruling party, AAP, in Amritsar after the recent election results had been announced and before the incumbents had been sworn in? Do the government departments foot the bill and if so, how and under whose authorisation? Since it was a party show, should not the party foot the bill? Then there was the issue of the Punjab Government helicopter having been used to ferry the Punjab and Delhi CMs to Himachal Pradesh for attending party rallies. The moot point: can a state government helicopter be used for such party functions? Another questionable practice that has continued for years is the allotment of ministerial and other government houses on the basis of security or other concerns to those not entitled to such prized accommodation. Is such discretion the price that we pay for democracy?
Surprisingly, we in Punjab or elsewhere in our country ask no questions about such indiscretions even though there are healthy traditions and conventions around the World to fall back on and emulate. Let me give you one example. In August 2015, the Speaker of the Australian Parliament, Bronwyn Bishop, had to resign. Reason: She had used $5227 of taxpayers’ money to charter a helicopter to fly from Melbourne to Geelong for a party function a few months earlier. It was a 75-km chopper ride she had undertaken for a Liberal Party fundraiser. Eight months later she paid the money and also apologised for misusing public funds. But that was not enough. She had to resign as Speaker of the Parliament.
If the same yardstick was to be applied to our leaders, many of them will have to repay, apologise and resign many times over! Will our leaders professing honesty, and lecturing others on ethics and propriety, have the moral courage to be introspective and bring about a Conflict of Interest law or an independent and overarching Lokpal? Or is my cause holier than thou!