If corruption dominated news in India all these months, now it is how to fight corruption. The matter has assumed prominence with social activist Anna Hazare fasting unto death over the text of the proposed Lok Pal Bill. The provisions of the Bill and their implications merit separate attention, which we intend to focus in one of our coming issues. Let me focus this time on the dimension of the phenomenon of corruption and what can we learn from the experiences abroad.
According to “2010 Global Corruption Barometer”, a global public opinion survey of more than 91,500 people in 86 countries on the state and status of corruption in various services in different countries, political parties are perceived to be the most corrupt institution by the Indians. Police and Parliament/Legislature were rated by about 97 per cent of respondents as the most corrupt institutions in the country. Other institutions that were termed corrupt include the public officials/civil servants, the private sector, media and the judiciary.
Nearly three-fourth of the respondents opined that the level of corruption in India has increased in the past three years. Similarly, three-fourth of the people sampled felt that the government has not been effective in addressing corruption in the country. Respondents, however, expressed their maximum trust in Media in fighting corruption. The survey in India, conducted on the basis of 1000 urban households at the national level by Gallup International between July 1 and 6, 2010, also indicated that the perception of government effectiveness in relation to addressing corruption has not improved from 2007.
According to watchdog Transparency International’s “Corruption Perception Index, 2010”, India’s rank is 87 out of 178 countries, indicating a serious corruption problem. Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore turned out to be the least corrupt countries of the world in the index. What is worse for India is that it is seen to be more corrupt these days than in the past. Perception about corruption in India seems to have increased, the survey said, primarily due to alleged corrupt practices in the recently held Commonwealth Games in Delhi. This trend is confirmed by the former CVC Pratyush Sinha’s comment that “One in three Indians is ‘utterly corrupt’.”
Does this mean that the opening of the Indian economy in the 1990s has encouraged more corruption? It is not necessarily so. In fact, as a recent World Bank survey suggests, the problems in the country are due to the fact that the economy is half-open. India ranks an awful 165th out of 183 countries in the World Bank’s measure of the difficulty of starting a business. Rather than face endless delays and high costs, many ordinary Indians decide to proceed without the necessary authorisation and then hide their businesses. No wonder why official bribery is still strong and why people avoid paying taxes. The size of the formal Indian economy is now such that estimates of the underground economy at 40-50 per cent of GDP generate very large numbers, about $600 billion. This, in turn, spurs outrage at black marketeers robbing the Indian people.
In fact, it will be not wrong to say a culture of corruption is pervading us, all Indians. And that is adversely affecting the country in many ways. It encourages “easy life” and laziness. For instance, students do not study and by bribing the teachers get high marks. We now know how through corrupt means relatives of corrupt politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats managed fake flying licenses. Imagine how safe air-journeys are now!
Corruption declines production of work. It kills integrity because employees, who accept corruption situation, cannot do their duties unless they get illegal stimulants. Corruption thus impairs the work system, which, in turn, leads to decline of production. For example, employees, who know that their manager takes bribe, won’t follow his directions exactly; therefore, productions of work will be decreased. I think the worst aspect of the corruption is that it causes less respect between a person who takes it and others. For a person who deals by bribery, his respect will be decreased for himself because he does wrong something that is not his right. In addition, coworkers will see at the person who takes bribery, as kind of corruption, as a person who lives without morals, beliefs, and respect. In other words, corruption wastes much good things, such as other’s rights, fruitful production, and required respect.
Now, how to fight corruption? If some international examples are taken into account, the path is not easy. First, it has been seen that the crusade is never a serious attempt at reform, with the government simply reacting to a scandal or, in the case of many developing countries, external pressure from donors. If a government is simply going through the motions, it may not put the right people or adequate resources into the crusade. This will result in the crusade not having any serious impact or simply fizzling out. This has been seen in Turkey when efforts to prosecute two former corrupt prime ministers were not sincerely pursued by the government of the day.
Secondly, a government may use the excuse of an anti-corruption crusade to carry out witch hunts of its opponents. Under such circumstances, people will become uneasy about whistle-blowing or exposing corruption as they do not know the real motives for such an exercise. In fact, the seeming singling out or framing of innocent individuals would quickly blow the credibility of such a “reform.” Taken a step further, anti-corruption crusades can be used, as in Pakistan, to justify military coups to undermine, weaken and topple democratic governments.
Thirdly, a government may be very serious about fighting corruption but do not take the time and the effort to consult and get the buy-in of its social partners: businesses and civil society entities. Without a national consensus, even a genuine anti-corruption crusade driven by a government may be misconstrued or not be supported by the rest of society. In the 1990s it was seen how in Bolivia, a national anti-corruption plan had been drawn up by experts within the past several years. But because there had not been wide consultations, some of the church groups were not in total support. The government had to step back from implementation to try to call for a national policy dialogue.
Fourthly, a government may genuinely start an anti-corruption campaign and be put out of power or shift its political priorities. This type of scenario calls for a need to also ensure that opposition is also on board of anti-corruption crusades. Then, even when there is a transition of power or a shift in political priorities, the opposition will either come into power or put pressure on the government to continue on with reforms. The importance of involving the opposition parties is illustrated by the Japanese example. Here, the plan succeeded because the opposition-proposed bill to prevent political corruption through banning lawmakers from receiving goods in return for political favours found support among the members of the ruling party to agitate for their party to take action on this front.
All told, it is important to note that even well-meant efforts are unlikely to meet their goals if basic democratic institutions — from judiciary systems to a civil society — are not in place. Institutions must not only exist on paper, but also have an actual power to monitor and hold the government accountable. Reforms based on those principles, says a recent study, have worked in Singapore, Hong Kong, Botswana, Tanzania, Slovenia, Latvia and Peru, all of which have made progress in the fight against corruption. For example, Peru created a special anti-corruption system to investigate and prosecute cases. Singapore’s leaders encouraged public officials’ integrity by setting personal examples and by building a well-paid civil service. And in Tanzania, an anti-corruption campaign was directly related to concerted efforts to improve the country’s economy, living standards and business environment.
Will India draw some lessons?
By Prakash Nanda