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Last Updated Wednesday September 27 2017 01:20 AM IST

The moonlighting politicians

Sachidananda Murthy
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Navjot Singh Sidhu Navjot Singh Sidhu

Navjot Singh Sidhu says what he does in the night should not be anybody's concern. The new culture and local bodies minister of Punjab wants to continue hosting television shows, which give him an income of crores of rupees every year. The cricketer-turned-politician, who got elected on the plank of delivering Punjab from the ills of the Akali-BJP rule is insistent that he would do television shows to get decent income, or else he would be forced to indulge in corruption to get a good income.

The justification is obviously flawed, because there are hundreds of minister at the Center and state level who live a decent life on the salary and perks of a minister. Surprised by this attitude of a new colleague, Punjab chief minister has left the matter to the legal decision of the state's advocate general, adding that if there is a conflict of interest, then he would take away culture ministry from Sidhu.

Interestingly, the Office of Profit Law, which covers ministers, MPs and MLAs, only prohibits them from taking non permitted jobs offered by the government. There is no ban on private sector activity.

In faraway London, which Sidhu visits regularly, there is a big controversy involving George Osborne, who was recently sacked as finance minister by prime minister Theresa May. Within months of becoming an ordinary MP, Osborne has accepted six different assignments, earning him hefty income.

But critics are saying that all of them involve a conflict of interest and he cannot do an honest job to his constituency or to parliament. Among the assignments taken by Osborne are as as editor of the London evening standard newspaper where he will work for four days a week; consultant to the Blackrock Investment Group, where he will work for four days a month; as an advisor to the McCain Institute of Public Leadership in United States for unspecified number of days, and a contract for paid speeches once a month which will fetch him over 50,000 pound sterling a speech. This has prompted the committee of privileges to work on a system, which bans second jobs for MPs.

Osborne has told critics that how he manages all these assignments are his responsibility and he will not resign as an MP. He has also not taken prior permission from the advisory committee on business appointments for ex ministers, saying contracts cannot be negotiated while waiting for permission from committees.

Though both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have set up ethics committees under L.K. Advani and Karan Singh, respectively, they do not have enough teeth to enforce rules on conflict of interests. The latest row happened when a beedi tycoon in the Lok Sabha from Chattisgarh became member of the standing committee on health, which was discussing severe warnings for consumption of tobacco. But there is no provisions on such conflicts of interest.

Vijay Mallya, who headed the Kingfisher Airlines, was made a member of the standing committee on civil aviation when he was member of the Rajya Sabha. The secretariat argued that Mallya's expertise was useful to the committee, saying it was similar to an educationist-member being part of the committee on education.

The Indian system allows MPs and MLAs to continue with businesses, occupations and careers as long as it is not under the government. Thus, Naveen Jindal continued to be the managing director of his family's giant steel company when he was Lok Sabha member. Members ran their businesses and practised in the courts.

Only when lawyers became ministers - like Arun Jaitley, Kapil Sibal, P. Chidambaram - they requested the bar council to suspend their licence during the period of ministership. This is because the bar council is more strict that lawyers should not have second jobs, which occupy more time than practising law.

Interestingly, Sidhu's supporters are arguing that some of the film actors who became ministers like Chiranjeevi of Andhra Pradesh, acted in films while discharging the functions of the government. But Sidhu's detractors want him to concentrate fully on the state of Punjab, especially as the comedy and reality television shows in which he takes part are shot in studios of Mumbai, and not in Punjab.

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