Sunday, 13 September 2015

Lobbying

 Some 2600 years ago  the Greeks  nurtured a very peculiar system called democracy.  The nature of democracy is such that it has allowed the power of influence to flow haywire which  sometimes  harms the very purpose of democracy.

Lobbying in simple terms is influencing decisions made by government of a country. Lobbying is done by a people representing larger group of people united by common special interests.

Now at its very core lobbying allows citizens to put forward their options to the government concerning their needs and wants. It is difficult for a single citizen to influence government in its decision making hence lobbying is done collectively to promote their special interests. Not just citizens lobbying also helps elected representatives to be aware of people’s opinions and suggestions.

Lobbying can serve as supportive agent of democracy through its various functions. Lobbyists organize large amount of information and invest heavily on research.  They help disseminate huge public information with the help of private funding. Government can obtain valuable data without spending taxpayers’ money. Another important function lobbyists perform is that they pull in wide public participation and create public awareness for relevant issues.

Lobbying benefits both big and small interest groups. Though lobbying is a great tool for small interest groups to voice their views, it is a matter of contempt when it turns out to be a weapon of big interest groups, which is most prevalent.

In India the necessity of implementing a lobbying regulation has been invoked after  the expose of major scams  like ‘2G’, wherein frequency allocation licenses were undercharged by government and ‘Coalgate’, wherein coal deposits were allocated to companies at low prices.

 As mentioned earlier, Lobbying attracts a lot of negative sentiments in a country like India. It is a common perception that lobbying and corruption go hand in hand and this perception mainly is due to the lack of transparency in lobbying activities. Huge corporates , wealthy industrialists use their financial muscle to influence bureaucrats and legislators to take decisions that would benefit their business and profitability.

The activities undertaken by lobbyists have not been brought under the purview of a specific legislation thus allowing the lobbyists to act in a manner which can be detrimental to public interests. A fact worth noticing is that many developed countries regulate the activities of lobbying. The idea behind regulating lobbying is that lobbyists would have to operate within a certain framework without resorting to unfair tactics. Moreover lobbyists would identify themselves in public and individuals with a genuine intent to make a positive difference in the legislation would participate in lobbying activities.

Regulating lobbying doesn’t mean promoting bribery under a false pretext. Lobbying activities can be used to influence positive changes in the legislation and safeguards interests of various stakeholders. The notion that lobbying is in itself a negative act should be replaced by undertaking lobbying activities to influence positive changes in the legislation

The Right to information Act, 2005 is one such example. Campaigns were run by the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS)—a coalition of non-governmental organizations—for the Right to Information Act. Women’s organizations have campaigned for women-friendly laws such as the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. A couple of years back, Anna Hazare led a popular campaign for the establishment of an anti-corruption body called the Lokpal.

The influence these groups would have depends on the public support they enjoy. There must be no restrictions in terms of access for lobbyists. A lobbyist group representing certain interests should not have an undue advantage in influencing legislators as compared to lobbyists representing a different set of interests.

Most countries have a registration mechanism for lobbyists wherein they register with an authority and disclose information about their clients and the methods they employ to lobby. For example, in the US, lobbyists are required to make quarterly disclosures of their expenses.

The act of lobbying is rampant in India but the public mostly remains unaware of it unless a scandal breaks.India needs to determine a regulatory model that suits its socio-political needs. The disclosure requirements in the regulation should be carefully drafted. A law to regulate lobbying could pave the way for transparency in the policymaking process.Regulating the process of lobbying can be a step that can benefit the  country.