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Cultural changes far bigger than budget sops from new government

Monday, 7 July 2014 - 6:15am IST | Agency: dna

He keeps it straight – on the course and about the economy. This time for the budget, Pramod Bhasin is sticking his neck out to seek a change. Bhasin like everyone else has big hopes but doesn't want a list of tax sops. Instead he says "this government has a chance to make a real and profound change in how we work as a country."

Bhasin who is back from one of his whirlwind business tours, shares what seems to be the core of the game this time – the need for simplicity. "They just need to demonstrate intent and actions to improve ability to do business in India.

Perhaps increase accountability of government departments, demonstrate clarity on transfer pricing and retrospective amendments." Such problems are literally and often just stuck in files. As a technology evangelist he wants to push for use of IT to clear up the backlog, perhaps hopeful that the tech-savvy and social media conscious government may actually fix key issues. 

"Domestically, we should focus on major government projects using technology to modernise all aspects of the government. We should appoint a government "CIO" to oversee this for every Ministry and major function."

The budget this year may only set the stage for some key changes but not offer too many of them. The new finance minister, Arun Jaitley, has not had enough time to pursue all demands. Making his task harder is the fact that issues plaguing industry are systemic and procedural. "We have to give the new government a good 2-3 years to accomplish major changes. Our issues are systemic.

For example, how do you make this bureaucracy more accountable, how do you weed out corruption? How do you make the justice system work faster and better? These will take a long time to accomplish."
The challenge is that the business community is famished for reforms and change. The last few years of weak growth and poor investment climate has set up the expectations too high. It has also made industrialists impatient for economic repair. But Bhasin warns there is need to "temper our outlook and recognise the ground reality."

What's disillusioning about economic change is that there are problems right at the bottom and so if those issues are not fixed then once again the growth story may be a jobless one with little improvement in basic citizen services. "We need to solve the legal system logjams. You can't stamp out corruption without an efficient and good legal system. We don't have one. Reduce government to citizen litigation, clear and speed up courts and let's get moving. Tons of honest citizens will then feel empowered to take corruption to the courts."

These big cultural changes are far more important than many specifics of tax codes or subsidies and contribute to the difference between a mediocre country and a good one. The government must be central to this process insists Bhasin.

He once said this to me on a golf course. "Change is the only constant. You cannot stop and must constantly endeavor to grow." One only hopes the government is thinking this way.

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