Letter to the Ethics Committees of Parliament on the issue of conflict of interest by MPs

The Public Interest Foundation sent letters on 6 June 2013 to then Chairmen of Committee on Ethics of both Houses of Parliament, Mr. Sis Ram Ola and Prof. Ram Gopal Yadav, requesting their thoughtful attention toward compelling grounds to dissuade Members of Parliament from employing members of their immediate family and relatives in their personal staff.

The Foundation’s research initiatives on systemic reforms in the country to obviate the incidence of governance deficit has observed the ethical quagmire in India’s parliamentary democracy with print media reporting on Members of Parliament (MPs) employing immediate family members and relatives as personal assistants. Indubitably and evidently, the question of ethics and propriety in public office has emerged as an upshot of the report stating that 104 members of Lok Sabha and 42 members from Rajya Sabha have appointed at least 191 relatives in their personal staff.

Although a law does not exist in India preventing these appointments by MPs, but there cannot be any reasonable justification bereft of explicit conflict of interest on the part of MPs in generating income to one’s own family members at taxpayers’ expense. This should be considered as exploitation violative of rights, privileges and probity of common citizens.

An elected representative of the people is expected to maintain the highest moral and ethical standards in office. Entertaining matters raising conflict of interest by an MP is reflective of the profanation of the elected representative to the oath or affirmation made when entering the House of Parliament. The public contempt at the deterioration of the Parliament has reached the volatile juncture where immediate actions have become necessary to ameliorate and instil ethics and probity to the office of an MP.

In this regard, an understanding of House of Commons Rule in Canada would prove a benignant force in formulating any law in India to curb actions of conflict of interest by MPs. The Rule in Canada clearly states that MPs in the House of Commons are not allowed to “hire or enter into a contract for consulting and professional services with members of immediate family (spouses and their children and their spouses and children)”. The Conflict of Interest Code for Members in the Canadian House of Commons under section (8) of Rules of Conduct states that “Members shall not act in any way to further his or her private interests or those of a member of the Member’s family, or to improperly further another person’s entity or private interests”.

The good authority of Ethics Committees of both Houses are trusted in taking suo motu cognizance of this critical issue toward initiating measures to stringently rein in appointing of family members and relatives by MPs in their personal staff. Any law directive of this intention should potentially define “family members” and “relatives” along with disciplinary actions against MPs contravening any such law. The Foundation solicited their kind attention toward the exigency to curb any misconduct in the office of an MP expending public exchequer.

Letter drafted by Nripendra Misra, Director, PIF and Annapoorna Karthika, Research Associate, PIF