Walk the talk

Making false claims by public officials and those working in government agencies is a well-known issue and one that has been going on for quite a long time now.

However, rather than viewing such practices as corrupt and unethical, it’s surprising that they are considered normal, accepted and a part of the system. More than an act of corruption, such a trend is considered as a sort of an entitlement or benefit that one is entitled to for merely being a public servant.

However, according to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), a public servant submitting travel claims beyond the actual travel is a corrupt offence.

It’s surprising, therefore, that the National Assembly rejected the Good Governance Committee’s proposal to increase punishment for false claims by public servants during the deliberation of the Anti-Corruption (Amendment) Bill at the National Assembly on June 2.

The main contention was on Section 62 (2) of the Anti-Corruption Act 2011, which states that a public servant who is guilty of an offence under this section shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding two times the amount which was so claimed or value-based sentence.

The Good Governance Committee recommended amending this section as: “An offence under this section shall be a misdemeanor or value-based sentencing, whichever is higher”.

The National Assembly’s overwhelming rejection of the proposal to increase punishment for false claims by public servants is, therefore, likely to only support and encourage such practices in our public service. It also sends a message of a sort that it is okay to make false claims and get away with it.

A large chunk of the government’s recurrent budget today is spent on travel-related expenditure. That’s why the finance ministry launched an electronic Daily Allowance and Travel Claim System (e-DATS) on February 20 this year to control travel-related expenses. While the ministry believes that the system would facilitate timely processing of travel claims (TA/DA) and payments, and also eliminate the practice of table tours and bogus payments, not much is known about and talked about when it comes to how it would deter public servants from making false claims.

Further, some Members of the Parliament proposing that the punishment should be as per the offence speaks little of the genuine desire to curb corruption in totality. There is nothing like a small act of corruption or a big act of corruption. Any corrupt act should be considered as corruption and should be condemned.

Even our slogan of “zero tolerance to corruption” is explicit. It is vivid that there shall be no tolerance for any corrupt act or an act of corruption. Again, there is no specification here that corruption is relative. Simply by pledging rhetorically about the adoption of “zero tolerance to corruption” in our agencies and organizations, and articulating in papers will not suffice if we want to curb and eradicate corruption. If we are really serious about corruption, we need to seriously walk the talk.