THE detection of the Anti-Corruption Commission that a group of public servants and their dependants in the family having been engaged in private business in breach of the service laws comes with concern in that the situation may have a far-reaching influence on corruption in the public sector. The concern is more grave as the commission investigators are reported to have detected private business entities that involve public servants of the rank of deputy secretary to secretary or equivalent position. Although the commission has not named them, it requested on February 22 the required Cabinet Division steps to stop such practice of public servants. The Cabinet Division on March 4 instructed the industries and departments concerned and the ministers are reported to have forwarded on March 24 the Cabinet Division instruction to additional secretary administration and all directors general of the departments and the planning ministry is reported to have already instructed all its employees not to engage themselves in private business without permission. Such practice of public servants is, as the public administration secretary seeks to say, is illegal by way of the Public Employees Discipline (Punctual Attendance) Ordinance 1982, which is subsumed in the Public Services Act 2018 that came into force in October 2019. The new law repealed the ordinance.
While the commission says that it has taken the step as part of a corruption prevention measure and the authorities concerned are responsible for taking legal steps, the public administration secretary seeks to say that it would take the necessary steps to prevent such malpractice of public servants. The commission further says that it would take action against any public servants if they get involved in any corruption that falls under the jurisdiction of the commission. A former Cabinet Division secretary, however, says that either the commission or the ministry should take legal action against the public servants illegally engaged in private business. Either or both of them should immediately do this because such an engagement of public servants or their dependants in the family creates a scope for the public servants in question to cause the involvement of their business entities in commercial engagement with the government. When such public servants are ranking officials such as deputy secretaries or secretaries, chances are fat for them also to influence public-sector dealing in favour of the business entities that they are involved in. The malpractice of the engagement of public servants in private business entities, which is illegal, could easily roll into financial corruption, thereby begetting further corruption, if steps are not urgently taken against all this.
The passing of instructions and intimation is welcome, but this is not enough. Taking action is more important as it sends out the right signal against such malpractice, which will be more pragmatic. The government, the public administration ministry or other agencies and departments for that matter, must, therefore, immediately get down to work and start taking legal action against the errant public servants, rising above any partisan interests, in the interest of good governance.
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