Monday, March 26, 2007

Corruption is a symptom and not disease

In India, no denies the validity of common perception Sarkari daftar mai sabhi paisa khahte hai (In government offices everyone demands bribe). Why is there so much corruption prevalent in Indian society? Is it that by inborn nature that many people tend to be corrupt? Given the large-scale prevalence of this problem, we can argue that corruption and dishonesty in public life is not an individual trend. Surely it is not a trend peculiar to Indian society. Problem of corruption is prevalent in all societies to varying degrees in different public and private sectors. Many countries (including highly developed ones) have passed through similar conditions at various times in History and have seen different faces of corruption. The inter linkages between human behavior engaging in corrupt/dishonest practices to political and administrative structures, economic conditions and social order is subtle and needs particular attention. I would like to stress that corruption is not a ‘disease’ carried by individuals in a society but a reflection of the prevalent socio-economic and political conditions.

A study conducted by Center for media studies highlights the practice and prevalence of corruption in India. Their study in collaboration with Transparency International (TI) indicates that in India, common people (excluding high profile business man and politicians) pay petty bribes more than Rs.20,000 crore ($5bn) to avail various public services. More than 60 percent of citizens had the firsthand experience of paying bribe or “using a contact” to get a job done in a public office. Corruption is not merely in the media or in the minds of people as it is sometimes made out. But it is in the system all across the public services, is what this study highlights

CMS in 2006, ranked India 70th in the world on corruption barometer (higher ranking indicates greater corruption). Ironically Police (crime and Traffic), the very own people responsible for maintenance of law and order, stands high on the corruption index. Judiciary (lower Courts) and Land Administration are rated next only to Police. Corruption level varies drastically from state to state. Kerala being the least corrupt and Bihar (as expected) stands as the most corrupt state. Surprisingly economically prosperous states like Karnataka and Tamilnadu occupy the top rankings. These rankings are based on both “perception” and “experience” of people.

If one tries to dig out the reasons for such widespread prevalence of corruption, we can come out with the following set of reasons (not exhaustive of course).
• Lack of transparency and accountability in the system,
• Hierarchical administrative system,
• Poor literacy and lack of awareness,
• Lack of an effective corruption reporting mechanisms,
• Ineffective judiciary,
• Lack of performance incentives and competitive atmosphere
• Lack of honesty in officials in the Government,
• Acceptance of Bribe as a way of life, custom and culture.
I would argue that the last two reasons are essentially due to the other factors listed above. The ubiquitous presence of corruption in society leads to the acceptance of bribe as a way of life and culture.

Lack of Transparency
Lack of transparency in public services gives an undue advantage to civil servants to keeps the information from public preview, there by easing the route to corruption. For more than eight decades Indian’s were legally denied the access to files or documents related to public work, due to an archaic law called official secrets Act -1923. It restricts the information disclosure or inspection of government work by general public. This secrecy protected the government from public scrutiny. In October 2005, government enacted the powerful Right to Information Act-2005 overriding the official secrets act. The result was immediate, thousands of cases of petty corruption were exposed, citizens awareness resulted in drastic decline in petty bribes. Within a year India’s ranking in corruption declined from 88 to 70. But on the other hand, India still gives protection to government servants from prosecution. Articles 310 and 311 provide not only guarantee constitutional protection to civil servants but also make it mandatory to seek prior sanction before prosecuting them. These laws create multiple routes for the civil servants to escape from being caught in corruption cases.

Hierarchical administrative structure
Centralized and hierarchical administrative system creates a bureaucratic chain paving way for corruption at each level. Corruption is rampant in almost all countries following centralized planning and socialist economy- like Russia, Poland, eastern Europeans nations, third world countries like India, Pakistan etc. To give an example, In India states have the responsibility of primary education. In Karnataka, primary and high school teacher appointment to a post in village has to pass through various layers and reach the state capital. The bribing goes on at each level in this structure making education the second most corrupt sector.

Lack of Accountability
Almost everywhere government sectors suffers from lack of accountability. Secure jobs, lack of incentives for performance or mandates for underperformance results in sloppy work. More stress is given on the inputs than the outlays. Public monopoly and lack of competitiveness makes the public sectors underproductive. Lack of questioning of outcomes puts less pressure on civil servants to perform and hence would naturally resort to corrupt means for personal gain.

Poor law and order maintenance and ineffective judiciary
People with power and money can influence the police, politicians and judiciary. More often people convicted of corruption find escape roots and are rarely punished. The very people responsible for maintaining law and order are corrupt. CMS survey indicates that Police are the most corrupt in India and is followed by Judiciary (lower courts). Cases often go on for decades together and delayed justice is denied justice. Indian constitution boasts of being the largest constitution in the world with over 400 articles. The constitution has undergone 112 amendments in sixty years! A closer study reveals that it is highly procedural, non adaptive and sometimes ambiguous. The laws and civil codes derived out of constitution are unsuitable for changing societal conditions. India’s justice system is one of the slowest in the world.

Illiteracy and lack of awareness
Poor people are susceptible to be duped easily. Well-informed citizens are less susceptible to be duped by public. Illiteracy and poor education system creates lack of informed citizens and prevents them from actively participating in the democratic process. There is a strong correlation between education and economic development with reduction in corruption. In the late 40’s India and South Korea were comparable in many ways; both had literacy around 20% (17% and 22% respectively), poverty level was high in both countries- so was corruption. But the next few decades South Korea was marching fast on the road to development both economic and social. By 70’s South Korea’s literacy rose to 88% where as India showed a dismal increase to 35%. South Korea boomed economically becoming one of the rising Asian tigers. Corruption in South Korea decreased rapidly. India’s corruption remained as it is. Evidence can also be seen in many impoverished African countries, where corruption is widely prevalent.

Lack of effective corruption reporting mechanism
In the absence of good corruption reporting mechanism, people get discouraged to take initiative to tackle corruption. Tedious bureaucratic procedures, paper based methods, presence of few centralized information centers, remote location create huge barriers in reporting corruption.

Human behavior towards corruption
The factors described above inevitably influences the human behavior to find the shortest perceived route to individual prosperity- Corruption. Thus, corruption is a collective behavior (symptoms) reflecting the conditions prevalent in society.




Rangakrishnan Srinivasan said...

dude... u never told me that u had started writing! welcome to the world! will talk to u sometime!

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Musings.. said...

good read.. wonder if there is an organised way to get rid of curruption..

like a 5 year plan!!

Shiv said...

Understanding the roots of the problem deeply should suggest solutions. Transparent administration, better governance, better law enforcemnet should pave the way. Transparency International and CMS study has lot of suggestions for minimising orruption.

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