Rajya Sabha do not disclose biz dealings of MPs
December 31, 2009: The Times of India
None of our business?
– Association of Democratic Rights (ADR) filed RTI plea in July 2009, seeking copies of statements of RS members.
– RS panel says disclosure not in public interest.
– ADR says disclosure important for transparency and accountability.
NEW DELHI: It is no secret that many parliamentarians have varied business interests. But Rajya Sabha has tried to fend off an RTI application seeking information on commercial dealings and shares held by its members on the plea that such disclosure would not serve public interest.
The argument advanced by the Rajya Sabha ethics committee was that no ¶larger public interest¶ was addressed by revealing business involvement of MPs despite the recent controversy over members opting for parliamentary standing committees related to their interests in areas like health, education and roadways.
The Association of Democratic Rights had filed a RTI in July 2009 asking for copies of statements of current RS members submitted under register of members’ interest. ADR had also asked how many RS members had provided such information and if this was used to resolve conflict of interest issues in any way.
In its reply, RS secretariat said the committee on ethics had discussed the issue and unanimously agreed that members’ declarations, including income tax returns, were held by the House in a fiduciary capacity. The committee took the view that it was under ¶no obligation to furnish information regarding members’ pecuniary interests to applicant, especially when no larger public interest will be served by disclosure of such information¶.
ADR’s national coordinator Anil Bairwal disagreed, pointing out that disclosure of the `register of interest’ would not cause invasion of privacy as far as parliamentarians were concerned. Most of the information asked for was already available from a variety of sources but it should be made available by Parliament too, he said.
MPs were engaged in policy making covering a wide spectrum of issues dealing with large amount of public funds which made it essential that details of their pecuniary interests was made public,
Bairwal said. Several members of Rajya Sabha were ministers who were nominated to influential government bodies and parliamentary committees, he added. ¶Disclosure should maintain and enhance public confidence and trust in the integrity of parliamentarians,¶ Bairwal said.
ADR has argued that disclosure of interests would promote transparency and accountability in governance and so was very much in public interest. The register of members’ interests is an important component of the ethics committee’s mandate to oversee moral and ethical conduct of MPs.
In the register of members’ interest, Rajya Sabha MPs have to declare information like remunerative directorships, regular remunerated activity, shareholding of a controlling nature, paid consultancy and professional engagement.