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Luis Miranda

How Trust Deficit Has Invaded Our Lives

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Many months ago, I attended a discussion at the Observer Research Foundation on the future of the Mumbai racecourse at Mahalaxmi. It was an interesting discussion. There were many proposals presented on how one can develop that open land into a lovely green space which all Mumbaikars can enjoy. Today, people can walk or run around the racecourse track during certain times of the day and enjoy total peace away from the noise and pollution of Mumbai. A few years ago, when our daughter was sitting for her examinations at her school in Tardeo, I would go for long walks at the racecourse around 9 am while she wrote her papers. It was so peaceful.

The 99-year lease to the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) expired last summer. In May 2013, the BMC decided against renewing it. A part of the 226 acres is owned by the BMC and a larger part is owned by the state government. I do not know where the lease renewal decision is stuck at the moment, but it clearly has been forgotten by the media. I thought that the proposal to build a garden of international standards at that site was an excellent idea and some very interesting proposals were presented.

However, the underlying tension in that room related to the sincerity of the government in actually retaining that open space for the citizens of Mumbai. People were sceptical that the government would actually build a garden, let alone build one to international standards. There was a fear that real estate developers would grab parts of the land and the area that would be finally available to develop a garden would be much smaller.  I left the room with the belief that we should renew the RWITC lease—this way all of us would at least be able to enjoy a part of this open space for most parts of the day—but it finally boiled down to a lack of trust in the government on whether it would keep its commitment.

It is this trust deficit that is hurting public policy today. Citizens do not believe that the politicians and bureaucrats work in the interest of the citizens. Lobbies, like the real estate lobby in this case, can adversely impact our interests. And the recent corruption scandals have seriously widened this trust deficit. This is the deficit that the Aam Aadmi Party very successfully exploited in Delhi. But does that mean that all politicians are crooked? Does that mean that all bureaucrats are crooked? Does it mean that all policemen are crooked? This is what the public seem to believe. I do not think so. Yes, there are many people in public service who have forgotten the importance of the words ‘public’ and ‘service’. So even if the government wants to take a step in the right direction, people doubt it.

And this trust deficit has made decision-making difficult in the government itself. Government officials cannot offer a contract to someone who possibly has the best product but not the cheapest price. Contracts have to be bid out and must be awarded to the lowest bidder. This is because there is a trust deficit within the system—people assume that a contract has been awarded bilaterally because someone has been bribed. Of course, open, transparent bids have a lot of advantages. However, in many cases, the contract will be awarded to the lowest-priced contractor, who will do a shoddy job or come back with repeated cost escalations.

Take a look at the existing domestic terminal in Mumbai. It was the last major contract done by the Airports Authority of India before the airport was passed on to GVK to manage. It looked lovely, but, within a few months, we all noticed the poor quality of material used. The new Mangalore airport has a similar challenge—lovely design, but poor quality material—all because the L1 process has to be followed to avoid persecution by the dreaded 3 Cs—CVC, CBI and CAG.

This trust deficit does not only exist between the government and employees and citizens. It is found everywhere. Cricket, or example. The betting mafia has given a bad name to the game. If someone drops an easy catch fans say “paisa khaaya” (the fielder has been bribed). Just like when a batsman gets out for a low score.

And this trust deficit gets into our own homes. So, many times, we come across husbands and wives quarrelling on silly matters. Or mothers-in-law over-supervising their daughters-in-law. Or kids not being allowed some freedom.

How does one overcome this trust deficit in our lives? In the public sphere there are institutions that are supposed to protect us, like the judiciary and the media. Unfortunately, even some of these have lost the trust of the citizens. And how do we overcome this trust deficit in our own personal lives?

I have three suggestions. The first is open transparency (as opposed to ‘fake’ transparency). For example, if there is public transparency on how tariffs are being set by toll operators, it is possible that the public will stop supporting the absurd destruction of toll booths by the MNS. It will also bring back trust in PPPs. But there have to be boundaries for openness—otherwise the trust deficit leads to fears of persecution by vested interests or the 3Cs.

The second is open communication.  If people are open with each other and communicate properly, the trust levels will improve.

And the third is that we stop being so suspicious and stop seeing conspiracies in every situation.

Until then, the trust deficit will continue to eat away at our faith in public and private institutions.

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Sudhir Mankodi
For last 30 years or so, nexus between the lawmakers and the lawbreakers have created such havoc on the public administration that any conscientious officer in the government used to feel suffocated in discharging his duties honestly. Look at what happened to Mr. Khemka? May his tribe increase! It is good that those politicians with maligned image have been shown their place by the voters in their verdict on 16th May 2014. No introspection by the leadership team of the party which has lost and which was in the forefront of freedom struggle. Criticism of leadership is meeting with stern measure of sacking the person criticising! No wonder the trust of people like you and me is not their in such administrators. With the new government trying to put in place a mechanism which will attempt to "serve" (and not "rule") its subjects, let us hope that the trust in the institutions created by the constitution and their administrators will get restored and country will progress at a faster clip.
Very true. The Congress cannot tolerate dissent against the First Family, which is why it unfortunately is degenerating - a pity, since every democracy needs a strong and mature opposition party. Maybe we are at a tipping point in terms of accountability in India.
Shirish Navlekar
If a coin had three sides, the three suggestions would fit very well on the same coin.
Shirish, good one!
I think that the trust deficit between administrators and the public at this particular phase in Indian society is a result of an evolution process. When India opened up its economy in 1991 there were only a handful of state owned enterprises and private groups which had the organisational complexity to handle a much more market linked economy. Akin to the process of natural selection these groups succeeded and their resulting power had its side-effects. Net-net corruption and the resulting trust deficit is a by-product of an economic transition which could have been handled better. The good part about India is that however inefficient it may be, democracy works, and it mostly happens when we are faced with a crisis. I agree a lot has to do with open communication. Leaders / public officials need to engage with the public and the public needs to provide feedback. It has to be balanced so that we don't end up resorting to sms-polls everytime a decision needs to be taken!
Gordon, so true ...
Pulak Kumar Sinha
I am in full agreement with the views of the author. It is a fact that the entire nation today has been suffering from trust deficit in almost all walks of life. It is spreading like a cancer and the organisation(s) which can play a positive role in containing that is / are indulging in all such activities that raise question marks in the minds of people. While I support the suggestions, I would like to add that quick remedial actions by the authority coupled with full fledged publicity of the same can help people to regain their faith in the system. To cite an example, when the betting in cricket came to light, it was made known to everyone (Thanks to media!), but the actions taken(?) did not reach everyone with the same gravity and intensity. However, there is denying the fact that each of us has to play a role to regain the trust of the society.
Pulak, very true ... disclosure at all levels helps.
The authors suggestions are not practical simply because our politicians are out to milk the system, and there is no accountability for now. Even when a politician like the ex Chief minister Chavan is indicted by a judicial commission, the governor refuses permission to prosecute him. Is this justice? As AAP has so rightly pointed out, the Congress and the BJP along with the other major political parties have subverted the system for their own benefit and hence the masses have lost faith in them. To compound matters, our judicial system is so slow, that its a lifetime before a case comes for hearing, leave alone the final judgement.
Lalit, i believe in simple solutions because I cannot comprehend complicated solutions. Don't underestimate the power of crowds to force action. Of course legislators will then come up with laws that will frustrate implementation. My first point is to do with transparency. Why will that be difficult to implement? And one cannot change the world by always agitating. When the agitator has been empowered to make change, like the AAP was in Delhi, you cannot be confrontational. Of course existing parties have subverted the system - everyone knows that. The challenge is to change the existing system and by only being distrustful and confrontational change won't happen. Look at history. There have been a lot of positive changes in India over the past 20 years. The data supports this statement.
The point Luis is that the Trust Deficit is there and the reason is because the politicians do not have the interests of the citizens at heart. And the legal system does not punish them even when they are caught with their hand in the till. Do you think that the power of the people is going to change their behaviour in any way? Unless there is a major political upheaval, and a rejection of the mainstream political parties, akin to the AAP movement, this is not going to happen. Like it or not, the existing politicians have lost the trust of the citizens and have earned a well deserved reputation of being involved in wrongdoings of all kinds. That impression will take a long time to change.
Sudhir Mankodi
Lalit, What happened to Aap we all know. Created with good intentions but they lost their way and their ability to hold together as a team. I do not think they are a force to reckon with any more. What is required is, as pointed out by Luis total transparency in dealing with the public, restoration of internal democracy within the political party themselves where the leaders can be constructively criticised and an open mind by the ruling party to change the decision even if the changes are suggested by the opponent. Police reforms solidly backed up by a strong judiciary and quick justice delivery system should play a very important role in enforcing discipline if they are sure of no political intereference in their functioning. We have seen the effect of social media in the recent elections. People like us who are educated and techsavvy to an extent can contribute a lot in bringing systemic inefficiencies to the powers that be.
 
 
Luis Miranda
Luis Miranda started investing in India's infrastructure before it became fashionable. He started IDFC Private Equity and was earlier a part of the start-up team of HDFC Bank.
Luis has invested in and has been on the boards of companies like GMR Infrastructure, Delhi International Airport, Gujarat Pipavav Port, Gujarat State Petronet, L&T Infrastructure and Manipal Global Education.
Today he is involved with various non-profits like Centre for Civil Society, SNEHA, Human Rights Watch, Gateway House and Samhita Social Ventures. Luis graduated with an MBA from Chicago Booth.
 
 
 
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May 30, 2014 14:08 pm by Sudhir Mankodi
Lalit, What happened to Aap we all know. Created with good intentions but they lost their way and their ability to hold together as a team. I do not think they are a force to reckon with any more. What is required is, as pointed out by Luis total transparency in dealing with the public, restoration...
May 30, 2014 12:18 pm by Luis
Very true. The Congress cannot tolerate dissent against the First Family, which is why it unfortunately is degenerating - a pity, since every democracy needs a strong and mature opposition party. Maybe we are at a tipping point in terms of accountability in India.
May 30, 2014 11:53 am by Sudhir Mankodi
For last 30 years or so, nexus between the lawmakers and the lawbreakers have created such havoc on the public administration that any conscientious officer in the government used to feel suffocated in discharging his duties honestly. Look at what happened to Mr. Khemka? May his tribe increase! It i...
April 08, 2014 18:32 pm by Luis
Shirish, good one!
April 08, 2014 18:31 pm by Luis
Gordon, so true ...