Opinion

The curse of honesty

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The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi chairing thirteenth interaction through PRAGATI - the ICT-based, multi-modal platform for Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation, in New Delhi on June 29, 2016.

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi chairing thirteenth interaction through PRAGATI – the ICT-based, multi-modal platform for Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation, in New Delhi on June 29, 2016.

The Modi government is honest. But this honesty has become a curse for the people because the government revenues are honestly being used for consumption instead of investment.

Wrong policies are being implemented honestly. It is like the homemaker honestly feeding best of pizza to the children.

She bought the best of flour and tomatoes to make the pizza. This honesty is leading to bad health of the children. It would be better if she had bought wheat flour of somewhat lower quality and fed healthy dal and roti instead.

Corruption as lubricant

The UPA ministers and senior officials were corrupt. They would take bribes and look the other way on non-compliances of the laws.

For instance, an industrialist was required to install a pollution control unit costing Rs.5 crore. It was possible to give a bribe of Rs.5 lakh every year to the minister and continue to run the factory without the pollution control unit.

The industrialist would have to pay interest of Rs.70 lakh per year; and electricity and labour of like amount to run the pollution control unit. So he saved a total of Rs. 140 lakh per year by paying a bribe of just Rs.5 lakh.

This led to a reduction in his cost of production. He made a good profit because his cost of production was less. He invested in new factories.

He was producing the goods at a low price hence the demand for his produce was good. He was making good profits by selling these goods and had the money to invest in a new factory. The economy looked up because of the corruption.

The minister had lots of monies coming from the thousands of such industrial units. She invested the bribe money in real estate. I know of a chief minister who made large numbers of partnerships with the builders. The builder got easy access to money and was able to complete the building soon.

Corruption was working as a lubricant in two ways. It was leading to a lower cost of production for the industrialist. It was providing large amounts of investments both in new factories and in real estate howsoever unholy it may be.

The Modi government has put an end to such corruption at high places. As a result, the industrialist has to now invest in establishing the pollution control plant. He is also paying more taxes than previously because the tax collector has also become relatively honest. This has led to an increase in the cost of production.

The minister is also not getting grease money and not making partnerships with the builders. The builder is not getting a steady stream o black money. He is not able to complete his project. Thus real estate market is down.

The money that was previously flowing into the pockets of the minister is now flowing into the revenues of the government.

The impact of this honesty depends on the use of the government revenues. The government could use the money to make highways, improved distribution of electricity, and to introduce e-gateway for tax collection.

The increase in the cost of production for the industrialist due to the installation of pollution control unit and stricter tax compliance would then be compensated by government investment.

The cost of transport will be reduced from the making of highways. The cost of electricity will be reduced by improvement in electricity distribution system. The cost of tax compliance will be reduced by working through the e-gateway.

However, the economy would do much worse if the revenues were used for increased government consumption such as paying huge salaries to government servants and pensioners. In this case, the industrialist would be doubly hit.

The increase in the cost of production due to the installation of pollution control unit and stricter tax compliance would then not be compensated by reduced cost of production by the construction of improved highways.

The result will be a loss of profit and reduced investments by the industrialist. The flow of black money into the real estate market would also be less.

The honesty of the government will deprive the ministers from making partnerships with the builders. In the result, the economy will go down.

Government for ‘government servant’ only

The underlying issue is: Honesty for whom? Is the purpose of honesty to provide relief to the common man, or to provide more salaries to government servants? What is the purpose of the economy?

If the purpose of the economy is to provide relief to the common man then government revenues should be used for investment.

If the purpose of the economy is to provide relief to the government servants then government revenues should be used for paying higher salaries to them.

The conduct of the Modi government is clearly to provide increased consumption to the government servants. The implementation of one rank one pension and seventh pay commission is leading to increased consumption.

The capital expenditures of the central government are showing a declining trend. The Modi government is honestly sucking out the incomes of the 125 crore people of the country to provide increased benefits the government servants and pensioners.

This government is “of the government servants, by the government servants, for the government servants.” The “people” are haplessly being squeezed in this gigantic machine of honesty.

The above mentioned negative impact of the policies of the Modi government is partly nullified by honesty in giving out government contracts.

Let’s say, a highway is to be built. Previously the contractor had to pay huge bribes to the ministers and officials. That led to an increase in the cost of making the highway.

This increased cost could not be recovered from the revenues. That led to lesser private investment in highways. Those bribes are not required to be paid to the ministers and officials of the Modi government.

As a result, the cost of making the highway is less and investment has become profitable. This is the reason that the economy has not collapsed despite increased payment of salaries to the government servants.

The same honesty in giving out contracts would have pushed our growth rate to 10% plus if the government revenues were used for investment instead of consumption.

Honesty must benefit people

The bottom line is that honesty is good if the direction is good. Of what use is a driver who honestly takes the passenger to Kolkata when the destination was Mumbai?

The government has announced a deadline of September 30 for the businessmen to disclose their black money. The government will aggressively pursue the defaulters thereafter.

This will only make things worse. Businessmen will spend more energy in saving themselves from the noose of the taxman than in making investment plans.

Modi must first redirect the revenues into productive areas. Then only honesty will be beneficial for the people.

Author was formerly Professor of Economics at IIM Bengaluru Author's phone: 85278-29777

(Dr. Bharat Jhunjhunwala is a former Professor of Economics, IIM Bengaluru. He can be reached @ 85278-29777)

 

 

Bharat Jhunjhunwala

Dr. Bharat Jhunjhunwala was formerly Professor of Economics at IIM Bengaluru. Views expressed are personal. .Author’s phone: 85278-29777

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