Month: January 2014

Whistle Blowers are important to us…Till they mysteriously disappear



A news article published in today’s Economic Times reported Edward Snowden flagging off to the public that there are significant threats to his life, as he had leaked information on the NSA and their collection of telephone records and conversations. For those who aren’t aware, Edward Snowden is a former CIA employee and former NSA Contractor Employee who leaked several top secret documents to media outlets and has been on the run since then. Snowden has been considered a fugitive by the USA Authorities and has been charged of Espionage and theft of Government property.

 

Snowden is just one example of Whistle-Blowers being under threat. History has shown us that while in theory Whistle Blowers are revered doyens of their field, in practice they are hurled into the spotlight of the public eye and are swiftly in constant peril.

 

Whistle Blowers are meant to be people who gesture to decision making authorities (or regulatory powers) about any wrong doing in their place of work. Ideally these people should be honoured for their courage and dedication to do the same, but that’s rarely the case. Whistle-blowers might be safe(sometimes) while in the limelight but public memory is limited and Media outlets don’t publish articles unless they get views, the whistle-blowers are then left to handle the situation themselves, or with little help. It’s a very precarious position to be in and even the thought of it is unnerving.

 

Harry Markopolos had discovered the Madoff Ponzi Scheme and tried to blow a whistle on it (almost 10 years before it finally unravelled) and no one listened to him. Instead, as the years passed Markopolos began to fear for his life — he carried a gun and regularly checked his car and house for bombs. He said that if Madoff didn’t silence him, one of the many people enjoying steady returns from Madoff’s “feeder funds” would. Even if some corporate Whistle Blowers manage to escape with their lives, they lose their employability. I mean, which top management executive would employ a person with a track record of blowing the whistle on them. I’m sure Sherron Watkins would allude to that. She was the VP of Corporate Development at Enron when she blew the whistle on a scandal that blew the top of the Corporate World. She had to turn to a new career of becoming a writer and a lecturer after this incident.

 

India is no safe haven for Whistle Blowers either (Well, Duhh). There have been multiple instances of threatening, harassment and even murder of various whistle-blowers. Satyendra Dubey, was murdered in November 2003 after he had blown the whistle in a corruption case in the NHAI project. Shanmughan Manjunath, an IOC employee, was murdered for sealing a petrol pump that was selling adulterated fuel. A senior police officer alleged that Mayawati’s government was corrupt and had embezzled large amounts of money and was shortly thereafter, sent to a psychiatric hospital. The country still does not have a Whistle Blower Protection Act. The Whistle Blowers Protection Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha in 2011 and has for over 2 years been pending with the Rajya Sabha.

 

You’re likely to be a proletariat blowing it on powerful people higher up the Corporate Ladder. And more likely than not, there will be powerful investors connected politically as well; and while on paper it would be ideal to blow on the whistle on wrong doing; practically people are not really encouraged to do so. Whistle blowing is a dangerous proposition that almost entirely shrouds a person’s identity and life in uncertainty, risk and danger. We can only hope that things change. But in my view it is unlikely that it will.

 

What could be in store for the AAP

 

AAP’s new year gift to the citizens of Delhi was halving the power tariff of the state. This was one of the most prominent themes to its election campaign and true to its agenda AAP have delivered. However, recent reports show that AAP’s bold decision may have been more bluster and less thought.

Power distribution companies have told the Arvind Kejriwal government that they are running out of money to pay generation and transmission companies because electricity rates in the city state are too low; while banks do not want to lend to power cos as they feel the AAP government will not reimburse the companies of the subsidised amounts, thereby casting a large shadow of doubt on their ability to repay the loans. If reports are to be believed, Delhi could be in store for blackouts if this continues.

Much like the Delhi voters, I too believed that the AAP had done all its ground work on analysing the impact of the agenda on its manifesto both from the perspective of the voter and the Delhi Government. Maybe they had invested in Power Infra to reduce transmission losses significantly. Maybe they had discussed with reputed Engineers on experimenting new power generation and distribution techniques that also helps cut costs. However, this seems to have been grossly misjudged. Going forward we can expect the Delhi tariff rates to be hiked again or the government to suffer from financial displeasure.  So what happens when the prices are hiked? Surely the voters of Delhi will feel cheated and would like to vent their emotions to the members of the AAP.

This mistake follows another glaring error that AAP might have committed after coming to power. AAP’s key marketing strategy was portraying itself as an Aam Aadhmi(any ordinary person). This included living in normal houses, having normal security, driving normal cars(or using public transport) and behaving exactly the way they did before assuming their respective position of power. These, to me, are nothing but flimsy gimmicks that the political party resorted to which make little or no difference in administering the duties of your job. You see, having protection and privileged access for politicians is not an item of luxury but more an item of necessity(surely they’d rather travel by BMWs or Mercedes rather than an Ambassador). When you are in a position of power you need access to a level of protection, safety, information and secrecy that will aid in fulfilling the rather large boots of responsibility. Having a car saves the person in power time and risk of injury or death that he might have to face while travelling on trains or buses; much like how access to threats should be kept to the decision making authority and not the public at large as it might cause panic.

Visualise this. AAP announce power tariff revision and has doubled the tariff rate. Do you think it would be safe for a member from the party to travel by bus with the citizens of Delhi? Do you expect citizens of Delhi to understand the financial economics of the Delhi Government and of Power Companies; OR do you think they’d be annoyed that they’re having to shell out more for power when being promised they’d have to pay less – by that same member of the AAP in the bus? Do you think they’d meet him in the bus and say “Hey. Nice one bro”. Or do you think they’d flatten him at the first opportunity they got?

AAP need to be more sensible in the decisions they make. They need to invest into resolving ground issues rather than playing to gallery. Ironically the political party has done all the ground work but so far has shown they’ve forgotten the same. They need to focus on being a good Regional Party before laying into siege at a National Stage. Right now it only serves a distraction to the job they have agreed to undertake at Delhi.

The Indian Voting Public are maturing and are rewarding hard work and genuine intent. If AAP can deliver success through performance in Delhi, there is no reason not to believe the model will not be successful in certain other states in the Country. But till then, focus on Delhi. Leave the rest of India atleast for the next 5 years.