Monday, August 22, 2011

Lokpal vs Lok PAL

First things first, how does the Government tackle the ongoing fast by Anna Hazare which has now turned into a full blown revolution since the tone has changed to "it is now or never."

A quick solution:                                     

Going by my experience in project management and looking at how great organisations expand and implement new ideas, especially in situations where everyone thinks their solution is the right one, this is what the Government needs to do.

Implement the Jan Lokpal Bill proposed by the Civil Society with immediate effect but with a condition.

The condition being, it will be a limited beta release as they say in software terminology, the same that even Google is doing right now with its new social networking toy, Google Plus. Release the bill but implement it only on a small focus group. Choose few departments, maybe the RTO, Passport office or few other Government enterprises and implement it in a few sample cities and towns. Let the system function for some time, maybe a year, and then compile the results and let the public see if the system works. Iterations can be made as and when public feedback is unanimous for any change in what is implemented. For the time being, forget the Prime Minister and focus on the common man. There is no better way to test this system.

Well, the Govt could also try their version on a similar sample and compare the results with the Civil Society version. Sounds fair for everyone I guess. No? Then I would like to know if you have a better idea. You can post your views in the comments section below.

Now let me come to my actual blog post on what I think of the Jan Lokpal Bill and what could be an ideal solution. If you are the kind who is totally convinced with the Jan Lokpal Bill and don’t think there can be anything better, you can spare yourself the trouble and skip reading the rest of the blog post.

So what do I think of the Lokpal Bill?

I had originally planned to write a blog post on why the Lokpal Bill is a bad idea, both the civil society version as well as the Government one, but Nandan Nilekani made my job easier by giving this interview. Every word he speaks including the terminology he uses is something that I had in my mind for a long time. Watch the video before proceeding to read the rest of the blog.

To summarize what he says: 

There is no one magic bullet that can fix corruption. By creating Lokpal we will only be burdening our system by adding an additional layer of surveillance and audit when the underlying system actually needs fixing. Corruption mostly occurs at the point of interaction with the Govt, we need to streamline this process by improving service delivery and introducing more economic reforms. This could be done by automating things and a new age solution is needed while the Lokpal bill is a 19th century idea.

After stating the above, I now have two choices before me; go on ranting about how bad the idea of Lokpal Bill is or suggest an alternative solution. I guess I will go with the latter. Hence I present to you Lok PAL. Wait a sec, isn’t that the same, Lokpal and Lok PAL? No, they aren’t the same, infact they are as different as chalk and cheese. Let me explain further; before that you have to listen to my story.

Once upon a time....

There used to be a very corrupt person; he was so corrupt that he was proud of his corruption skills and also volunteered to help his friends when they needed help from him. His crime; he used to know every single black ticket seller in Hyderabad and later Chennai; the crazy movie buff that he was, if a movie had to be seen then it had to be seen at any cost. That person is none other than me, Kartik Dayanand Boddapati, the great Black Tickets Procurer.

But today, I don’t know a single Black Ticket seller and haven’t booked a ticket in black for ages.

So why did I buy tickets in black then and why don’t I do that now?

Simple, it was a question of demand and supply. It was the pre multiplex era and movies released in limited number of theatres with only 4 shows per day compared to the carpet bombing strategies that movies indulge in now. One had to book tickets days in advance to watch a blockbuster movie and most of the time tickets were not available over the counter, hence the black ticket guy became my best friend. Fast forward to today, all I have to do is choose the multiplex, log into their website, choose my show, pick my seat and pay online. No more shady deals with the black boys. From being a corrupt person I became one of the most honest guys, it is another matter that I pay a premium to the theatre to book my tickets online, but who cares, there is no uncertainty and I am saving time.  Ok, end of story.

What if?

Now imagine; what if there are no multiplexes but instead, the same few theatres played the same few movies with only 4 shows per day with great demand for tickets but with a better policing system. We might be able to eliminate the black ticket guys and tickets will be available at the counter but when I would get to watch the movie is anybody’s guess. I would then have to stand in a serpentine queue and count my luck. I might get tickets for a show that is playing next week while I want to watch today’s show. Time is not on my side and black ticket guys too have vanished now. I am basically screwed.

That is precisely the problem with the Jan Lokpal Bill, it does not address the issue of demand and supply but talks of policing the system which might lead to even more inconveniences than we already have today. My example of black tickets might sound juvenile to many but try and apply the same logic to anything else for which we have to deal with the government. Be it paying bills, applying for certificates, licence, gas, ration card, pan card, passport, tax refunds, etc, the list is endless. For lack of a faster access to service and to avoid inconvenience we resort to middle men and touts to do our job at a premium. What if supply meets demand? Will we still need to go through corrupt means, I am guessing no. Best example that comes to my mind is railway tickets, IRCTC is one of the most used website in India for no reason, people don’t want to spend time in queues, they need quick and hassle free service. Internet is the great enabler here. But wait, isn’t most of the country illiterate and internet still a distant dream?

Mobiles are eating our world!

I got the idea for this heading from an article that I read recently – Why Software is eating the worldI also base my assumption on various articles that say Rural India is propelling mobile growth. And yes, not to forget countless articles that talk of the Smartphones killing the PC.   

Internet is not a dream anymore and thanks to the advent and speed of evolution of technology we no longer need expensive computers to access data online. A simple mobile phone is all we need to possess immense power. Smartphone development, especially the battle between Google, Apple and Windows means we will be seeing cheaper and faster phones every day. Already every household today has mobiles, even roadside beggars and daily wage labourers are carrying mobile phones, it is not an exaggeration. It was unthinkable just a decade back. Half a decade from now, smart phones will be the most basic need of every single person on this earth and the power of internet will be in every man’s palm. Isn’t it fair on our part to look for solutions that are futuristic and cater to future generations? Services need to all be online and available at the click of a button; this is one sure shot way to eliminate middle men and corruption.

Well, what I spoke above comes under the category of retail corruption as Nandan says in his interview, what about the Big Ticket corruption, the likes of the CWG and 2G scams? How does one fix that?

Big Ticket Corruption

Big ticket corruption or scams as we know them popularly, how does one keep them under control? The approach here would be a little different as most of the dealings happen away from the public eye and is something that only the concerned parties are aware of.

Political parties or government departments should not be very different from how private corporations are run. There is always a CEO who is accountable and likewise we have the Prime Minister and other important ministers given portfolios to manage the nation. So how do organisations monitor their people effectively? They believe in the mantra of transparency and accountability. The way to achieve this is by modernising the processes and having strong analytics to collect realtime data to take quick action.

The combination works only when there is a strong leader who is also aware of the bottlenecks in the system and knows how and when to clear them. I had written a blog post on the same last year called Commonwealth Games 2010: A plumbing problem! where I elaborate on the same. 

How do you think software and IT business has become so lucrative the world over? It is because these companies design systems for organisations to manage their operations effectively. If India can work on Billions of dollars of outsourced work, why can’t the Government focus on these companies and get their own systems and processes upgraded? I hope Infosys is listening to this.

To sum it up: Great leaders who are directly accountable to the public and with access to realtime data can ensure there is no scam ever perpetrated again.

Why not make politicians and heads of organisations accountable by asking them to post daily on Twitter or Facebook about their days accomplishments. In the good old days of Doordarshan, the only thing we got to see on the news was Rajiv Gandhi visiting places and giving speeches in his dashing glares. We now rarely get to see and hear what our politicians are doing on a daily basis that too in this age of multiple television channels and social networks. Something is seriously amiss here, and Manmohan Singh has lost the plot completely while an Anna Hazare is able to sneak in a video even from behind bars. Probably explains why he is the more popular one among the two.

Ok, so what is this Lok PAL that I was talking about earlier in the blog? 

How is it different from Lokpal Bill?

By definition, Lokpal is derived from the Sanskrit words Loka (people/world) and Pala (Ruler/Protector). What I plan to propose is the Lok PAL, Loka means the world/people and PAL means a friend (English meaning of PAL).

Lok PAL is not a Ruler or Protector who will Police us but a Friend who will Help us fix the system.

Lok PAL should effectively become this body that goes about modernizing and fixing every single department in the country. It reminds me of the saying “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” It is best we let the departments take care of themselves rather than leaning on an all powerful Lokpal, what it needs instead is a Lok PAL.

Who makes this Lok PAL then?

Let me get back to the original people that I spoke about at the start of this blog post. Anna Hazare and Nandan Nilekani. One has the wisdom of age and the other the knowledge of running massive organisations. Anna can use the massive public support that he has generated and ask the same public to give suggestions as to how every department can be fixed. Each person can start talking and writing about what they think is the best way to fix the local departments that they deal with frequently. There is no better knowledge than what the public can offer and the more constructive the solutions the better it is. Facebook, Google and Twitter certainly know a thing or two about it already, harnessing the power of the public.

Additional to this, let them build a team of experts, no, not Nobel Prize winners and their ilk but real movers and shakers. Even thinking out of the box would be a great idea, why not include Ramalinga Raju of the infamous Satyam Scam as well as Kalmadi of the CWG scam? Who else would know the current rotten system better than a robber? Haven’t we seen it in countless movies right from Jai & Veeru who finished Gabbar in Sholay to Sean Connery in The Rock? 
The bad guys are always the best shot if one has to finish the bad guys. 
If good guys were that effective, then Mahmohan Singh would have made sure our country was free of corruption by now.

It is time we seriously looked at Lok PAL as an alternative; I hope you will help me spread the word. I am banking on your Re Tweets and Like’s and of course your valuable comments. Thanks!!!

Till then,
Kartik Dayanand Boddapati