All that hype about corruption

Suman K. Sharma
A national newspaper has carried the news story that CBI has not found much substance in charges of corruption against officials involved in execution of works connected with the Asiad. Chargesheets have not yet been filed even in one fourth of the 18 cases registered. But the purists will not be satisfied. “Shunglu Committee’s report did point out to irregularities, didn’t it?” They are likely to say.
The purists want perfection in an imperfect world. That’s the rub. Pure sunlight can give us sun-burn and much worse. Distilled water is meant for batteries, not for human consumption. And who went for pure oxygen for his breath unless he was on the brink of breathing his last? Take our constitution. Almost every article has one or more ‘provisos’ intended to make it practicable; or in plainer words, make it less ‘pure’. So are the rules and regulations formulated by the State. If there is a strict rule to bar something, then surely there will be a ‘provided that’ to allow it.
In this meandering confusion what do men in charge do? Conceive the predicament of those who were responsible for executing diverse works for the Asian Games in a fixed time-frame. They had to deliver, at all costs, for what was at stake was the nation’s pride. In carrying out the works they deviated from the procedure, took wrong decisions, and committed mistakes. But the big job got done. Take a contrary example. Commenting on the Defence Budget for the year 2007-08, the Institute of Defence Studies & Analysis (IDSA) said that the Armed Forces had surrendered as much as 40,000 crore during the past decade. That happened primarily because the authorities responsible refused to take responsibility for fear of consequences. But that is a different story.
Those who are held for wrong-doing fall into two categories – ones who made errors of judgment without any selfish motive and others who deliberately set aside rules because of greed. The State does not spare either of them. The civilians have their rules of conduct and the defence personnel their service regulations. Then there is the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, to deal with the corrupt. Laws are in place to confiscate ill-gotten property. There is the Parliamentary Accounts Committee to oversee government’s expenditure. Statutory bodies like the Central Vigilance Commission and the Comptroller & Auditor General are meant to keep a hawk’s eye on any misappropriation of public funds. The Right to Information Act gives power to the ordinary members of public like you and me to demand – and receive – information from any public authority in the land. There is now a clamour for a stronger Lok Pal Bill….The point is that we have more than adequate provisions to fight corruption. Why is then corruption sapping our economy and enervating us as a nation?
One reason is deficit of trust. Voters suspect Ministers, Ministers their bureaucrats, bureaucrats their underlings and so forth. We find perverse joy in proclaiming to the world that our leaders are thieves and everyone in the public service is out to rob the nation.
In this milieu of suspicion, what would an average person in the government machinery do? “Okay,’ he is prone to say, “If I am considered corrupt, so be it. Let me avail of the next opportunity to gain by my ‘reputation’!” And so does the epidemic of corruption spread on.
But there is a remedy yet. We will have to begin with removing the artificial divide of ‘us’ and ‘them’; the misplaced feeling that only we are honest and the rest are a pack of thieves. It is our society that has thrown up Mahatama Gandhi and the man who is sentenced under the Prevention of Corruption Act. The deficit of trust will have to be overcome conscientiously to restore the loss of self esteem that those in public service experience in their working life. Let us begin with the premise that all of us are inherently self-respecting, honest individuals and it is only because of extraneous causes that some of us fall prey to the demon of corruption. That granted, if we awaken in ourselves the pride in what we do in the cause of common good and nation building, then each of us would be able to proudly assert, “I am not on sale.”
Two examples would suffice here. Lord Clive, the founder of British Empire in India and an epitome of the 18th century Britishers who landed in India with sole aim of acquiring its wealth and power, died at age 49 in the ignominy of having appropriated a part of the riches which his contemporaries said should have gone to his employers, the East India Company. At that time Britishers were looked down upon as greedy traders. But two centuries later when they left India, even the staunchest freedom fighters swore by their uprightness and honesty. How did it happen? A people’s basic traits do not change in barely 200 years. If there was a change, it was a change in perception. Unlike his rapacious ancestors, a Tommy who landed in India in the 1920s took pride in belonging to the race of the Masters of the Empire and conducted himself accordingly. The second example, which is more complex, is from our own times. Transparency International in its 2011 report has ranked Switzerland and Luxembourg as the 8th and 11th ‘least corrupt’ among the world’s nations (India stands at rank 95, in the not so illustrious company of – you imagine – Swaziland, Kiribati and Tonga!). Yet, those two are the countries which stockpile world’s black money. You can only figure out how this miracle has come about.


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