Accountability standards for public servants have to be kept at a realistic level so that officers do not hesitate in taking honest decisions, finance minister Arun Jaitley said on Friday, pitching for amending the definition of corruption in the Prevention of Corruption Act, a pre-Liberalization era law.

Delivering the first CL Goel Memorial lecture on “politics with transparency" in New Delhi, Jaitley said he had been advocating a change in the definition of corruption so that decision-making in Union, state and local body administrations does not suffer.

“We need to keep accountability standards realistic," said Jaitley. The minister added that the language in the Prevention of Corruption Act, legislated in 1988, is such that corruption includes even honest decisions by public servants, which many years later may have resulted in a loss to the government.

Many public servants have been harassed even after retirement for decisions on which not a single penny has changed hands, said Jaitley.

“I have been advocating changes to this definition of corruption because governance cannot take place in a climate of distrust," he said.

The government introduced a bill in the Rajya Sabha in 2013 to amend the law, but it is yet to be passed. The Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2013, seeks to replace the definition of criminal misconduct.

The proposed definition requires that the intention to acquire assets disproportionate to one’s income also needs to be proved, in addition to possession of such assets. This raises the threshold to establish the offence of having disproportionate assets.

The finance minister also said that a balance needs to be struck between the conflicting ideas of transparency in governance and privacy of individuals. Privacy, however, is not a defence against non-compliance with tax laws, he said.

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