GANGTOK, June 22
The importance of the culture and perceptions form the basis of the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) of the Transparency International, but the question is: why do the perceptions about corruption differ among nations? It is not the sum total of Money (in absolute terms) drained in corruption that determine how corrupt a country is. Rather than it is the pervasiveness or level of diffusion of corruption in a society that determines where as a country India will sit among the comity of nations in terms of CPI rankings.
In this background, small amounts of bribery charged/demanded by the low ranking officials in acts like moving files in the offices from one desk to the other, obtaining copy of court judgments, registration of first information report (FIR) of a crime at the police station, getting birth/death certificate, or the timely issuance of income tax refunds etc are no less damaging than the corruption associated with shadowy transactions/deals involving hefty commissions.
The majority of the people who happen to visit the public offices generally come into contact with the low ranking employees. A paltry amount of bribery paid to these employees leave a deep imprint in their minds. This is how the perceptions about corruption are formed.
Astonishingly, we are highly tolerant towards this species of corruption on the argument of low salaries of the public officials. We, perhaps, do not have the proper understanding and appreciation of the damaging impacts this brand of corruption may have for economic development and state building. It erodes the people’s confidence in state institutions and enhances the levels of perceptions about the pervasiveness of corruption in a society. Hence the high ranking among the list of corrupted countries, which, in turn, has negative implications for investment, trade and economic growth.
India realizing the negative impacts of bribery has come up with a simple but novel proposal, which has divided bribes into two basic types i.e. harassment bribes and non-harassment bribes. Harassment bribes are those bribes that people pay to get what they are legally entitled to get in such cases. The act of giving the bribe be declared a legitimate legal activity where a person entitled to get a refund from the income tax authorities, if compelled to pay bribery to get the refund cheque issued, is victim of harassment bribery. The giver of harassment bribe is not happy over the payment of bribe money for obtaining his genuine rights but he keeps mum as the law of the land treats him as guilty as well.
If the law is amended to the effect that bribe giver is not considered guilty of crime rather all punishment of the act of bribery is heaped on the bribe taker, the bribe giver will have incentive to disclose the act of bribery, the argument runs. The change in law on these lines will deter the bribe takers from indulging in bribe and incidence of bribery will be reduced. However, the downside of this proposal is that false charges of bribery may be leveled against public servants to blackmail them is loophole or can be plugged by increasing the punishment for blackmail and false accusations.
Besides the simple and novel proposal of India that has time, and again argued that it is the over-regulation of the economy that becomes the chief reason for rampant corruption. The bureaucratic corruption owes its genesis to the ‘permit raj’ prevalent in India. Cumbersome rules, convoluted procedures and lots of licensing requirements for import, export, produce, and investment etc gave a lot of opportunity and potential of corruption to the Indian bureaucrats and the politicians.
If a low ranking clerk or peon knows that signatures on a file have a price, it is only logical for him to put a corruption tag on the process, like moving the file, obtaining the copy of a document, and even giving information about the connections, eccentricities, and weaknesses etc of the incumbent of an office. In this way, corruption percolates to the lower cadres and ranks of the public bureaucracy. The insight economy should be deregulated as far as possible to reduce corruption.
India is also witnessing a social awakening on the issue of corruption. Anna Hazare’s fast-unto-death against corruption is a case in point. His protest came to an end when the government constituted a committee comprising ministers and civil society activists to draft an effective accountability bill against corruption. During the hunger strike, the support for Anna Hazare’s social cause swelled and the government had to accept the demands of the civil society.
Things are also deteriorating day-by-day in different parts of the world as well India. Corruption is crippling our economy and society. We need to take corruption head on and not pussyfoot around the issue. We need to flesh out a concrete anti-corruption strategy by exploring workable alternatives to tackle this issue.
The insights from our neighbouring country may at least provide some food for thought for devising such a strategy. Our politicians, social activists, civil society, media and the economists need to articulate corruption as the most daunting challenge to face with.
(Courtesy: Sikkim Mail)