Both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have permanent standing committees on ethics. While their job is to oversee moral ethical conduct of the members, these committees have fallen short of global standards both in scope & work. Discuss.
Ethics committees function to uphold the standards of the Parliament and thus its functions are three fold:
- Formulate a Code of Conduct for members and suggest amendments to it from time to time.
- To oversee the moral and ethical conduct of the Members
- To examine the cases referred to it with reference to ethical and other misconduct of the Members
These committees have fallen short of global standards both in scope & work because:
- Parliament loosing supremacy to the executive: With the dual membership of executive in legislature and the ruling alliance having a majority, the role of parliament is reduced to be an approving chamber rather than a deliberative chamber. This sidelining of parliament is affecting the functioning of ethics committee.
- Differential interpretation and lack of codified ethics is hindering the process of fixing accountability for the unethical behaviour of the members. Hence the second administrative reforms committee called for establishing a code of ethics.
- Lack of transparency. With lack of structural mechanisms to know the commercial and personal interests of the members often it becomes difficult to establish and effectively deal with instances of conflict of interest. This lack of visibility with the ethics committee handicaps their functioning.
Until there is a register of interests maintained and cases actively monitored and taken up suo moto by the ethics committees, their credibility is questionable. In the absence of independent commissioner or any other body that looks into complaints and investigates as in other mature democracies, self-regulated ethics committees as in India do not have the potential to go too far in ensuring MPs accountability nor maintain high Parliamentary standards.
The recommendations of the second administrative reforms committee can be of great aid in strengthening the committee of ethics.