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Govt promises strong Act

- Debate in Meghalaya House to add teeth to Lokayukta bill

Shillong, March 21: The Meghalaya government today promised to bring in a stronger Lokayukta bill to fight corruption and dispel the perception that “politicians are the most unscrupulous” lot.

West Shillong legislator Paul Lyngdoh tabled a resolution to strengthen the Meghalaya Lokayukta Act, 2002 after he hammered the government for bringing in a weak and a toothless Meghalaya Lokayukta Act, 2012 last year, which, according to him, “suffered from serious deformities and flaws”.

While enlisting the clauses of the bill, which he found to be untenable, Lyngdoh said the greatest setback for the government was when Governor R.S. Mooshahary refused to give his assent to the bill.

The Governor had returned the bill after the House hurriedly passed it without any meaningful discussions on December 14 last year.

While urging the government to have the bill redrafted, the legislator said: “With too many amendments, the right approach is to redraft the bill. I also suggest that members from the Opposition bench should be involved in redrafting the bill or (it) should be referred to a Select Committee of the House.”

He also urged the government to include traditional institutions, like the institutions of the syiemship and doloiship, within the ambit of the bill because they too were “public servants” empowered by the Sixth Schedule.

“All along, we have allowed traditional institutions to get away with murder and they have not deemed it fit to act responsibly. Hence, they should also be brought within the definition of public servants,” Lyngdoh said.

National People’s Party (NPP) legislator James P.K. Sangma reminded the House that when the bill was passed in December last year, Opposition members had staged a walkout to protest the government’s hasty act. He urged the government to table a new bill, which should be thoroughly debated and discussed.

Sangma also said that reference should be taken from the Centre’s Lokpal Bill while redrafting the Lokayukta bill.

The legislator demanded that a clause to protect the interest of whistleblowers should be inserted in the bill.

HSPDP legislator from Nongkrem, Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit, said corruption was the most “hated term”, especially among the youth of this country and that Meghalaya was not free from the bondage of corruption.

However, he said the Lokayukta was not the only panacea to the ills caused by corruption. Independent legislator from South Tura, John Leslee K. Sangma said not only was the bill lacking but also it was contradictory.

“As legislators, we have shown our resolve to fight against corruption, but at the same time, we have exposed our fears by holding back certain powers of the Lokayukta. The bill has taken away the teeth by having defensive clauses to protect corrupt practitioners,” Sangma said.

In his reply to the resolution, chief minister Mukul M. Sangma assured that every member would have the opportunity to debate and discuss the bill before it is passed.

“Sufficient time will be given to the members to discuss and deliberate on the bill for an effective Lokayukta,” he said.

He also asserted that his government was committed to dealing with issues of corruption and pointed out to the Governor’s Address where it was mentioned that amendments would be brought to the bill.

At the same time, the chief minister said the government would put in place legislation on social audit to supplement the anti-corruption bill.

“We have received the observations made by the governor and it will not take much time to come back (to the House) to further strengthen the bill. Politicians have been seen as the most unscrupulous sections of people. It is perceived that only politicians are corrupt. To dispel this perception, the government will definitely not shy away from bringing in a stronger law,” the chief minister asserted.

He also admitted that corruption was prevalent at the grassroots level.

“Corruption is not confined at the highest level alone. It is also there at the field-level. Hence, we will bring in a law on social audit to ensure an effective delivery mechanism,” the chief minister stated.