Corruption free society – how to achieve

Amit Gupta
“Corruption will go when the large number of persons given unworthily to it realizes that the nation does not exist for them to exploit but they exist to serve the nation. This requires morals, and extreme vigilance on the part of those who are free of the taint. Indifference will be criminal”
……Mahatma Gandhi

Corruption breeds immoral individuals working in improper systems of society wherein resources meant for welfare of society are diverted for personal gains rather than being utilized for the purpose these are meant for. More the pilferage of these resources, more is the intensity of corruption which ultimately result in loss of faith by general public in Government Institutions and creation of anarchist society. Corruption is a communicable disease and requires strong will and determination to prevent its occurrence and spread. If Government can control polio in our country through dedicated efforts and teamwork, there is no reason why corruption cannot be eradicated from the society. However a strong will coupled with strict and strenuous efforts are required at all levels especially more accountability and transparency at higher levels of bureaucracy and political setup which is pre-requisite for any anti-corruption crusade. To start with we have to accept and enlist corruption as one of the most undesirable enemy of society and then take possible preventive, punitive and remedial measures to address the problem effectively. We have to unleash untiring social campaigns in public domain in order to make people understand the ill effects of corruption and possible benefits of corruption free society which include equitable distribution of scarce resources, welfare of schemes meant for general masses, rational use of public money, avoiding accumulation of illegal wealth and black money/dirty money with some influential person in the society. Any effective anti corruption campaign revolve around promotion of ethical conduct in public services, collection of intelligence about corruption in various departments, periodical and systematic evaluation of processes and suggest modifications to prevent corruption, effectively enforce anti-corruption laws, create deterrence through strict actions and exemplary punishments, solicit co-operation of public through various awareness programmes.
Forms of corruption vary, but broadly include bribery, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, parochialism, patronage, influence peddling, graft, and embezzlement. Corruption may facilitate criminal enterprise such as drug trafficking, money laundering, and human trafficking, though it is not restricted to these activities. Nowadays corruption has become a way of life and exists “from womb to tomb”. Strenuous efforts are required to eradicate all types of corruption in the Government, private sector etc with appreciable change in public’s attitude to no longer tolerating corruption as a way of life and support the fight against corruption. A comprehensive strategy and proper planning is required at the onset which requires exhaustive study and examination of various factors in the society impacting the corruption. The study will include careful examination and understanding of the external factors which may affect the fight against corruption in the society and through this process, identify the problems like – whether there is adequate political will to fight corruption; whether there is political interference in investigating corruption; whether there is adequate accountability and transparency in the government; whether poverty of the state is related to corruption; whether salaries of the civil servants adequate and comparable with the business sector; whether government is providing sufficient funding in its budget for fighting corruption; whether corruption is prevalent in the business sector; public attitude towards corruption; whether people willing to report corruption either anonymously or non-anonymously; public perception of the government’s effectiveness in fighting corruption; whether any ethics education in school and universities; whether media supportive of fighting corruption; whether anti-corruption legislation adequate and effective; whether there is effective prosecution of corrupt offenders and protection of the innocent. In addition to it, further careful examination and understanding of the internal factors which may affect the fight against corruption in the society and through this process, identify the problems like – whether the system is conducive to efficiency, value for money and accountability, whether there is a review mechanism to review enforcement decisions and results, whether there are adequate operational guidelines for staff, whether there is a strict confidentiality rule to protect the integrity of the corruption investigation; whether the structure is based on priority targets in fighting corruption, whether the structure is built on professionalism, whether the structure ensure supervisory accountability; what is the management style and whether there is effective communication and staff consultation; whether human resources management, i.e. recruitment, promotion, termination of staff/trained manpower is built on the emphasis of staff integrity and professionalism, whether there is an internal monitoring system to ensure staff integrity; whether there is a comprehensive skill list and whether there is adequate training and refresher training to ensure the professionalism of staff, whether there is adequate professional support service; whether there is a comprehensive corporate plan, whether fight against corruption is based on a reactive or proactive approach, whether there is a clear strategy in formulating partnerships with outside agencies in fighting corruption, whether there is a strategy in dealing with the media; whether leadership is setting a good example, does the staff have a passion and sense of mission to fight corruption, whether there is a code of ethics for staff with adequate training, whether there is a fair reward and sanction system.
This analysis will give a true picture about respective strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threat. Now we have to figure out major problems or barriers in effectively fighting corruption on the basis of study about external and internal factors. Based on the study parameters and analysis of various factors impacting corruption in a society, some problems can be identified as major bottlenecks which may include – lack of or inadequate top political will to fight corruption; lack of independence in investigating corruption, investigations are often subject to political interference; law is outdated, inadequate and in-effective in dealing with corruption; lack of adequate resources in fighting corruption; public apathy to corruption; low salary of public servants; complaints/prevalence of corruption in law enforcement agencies and judiciary which can be seen as a mockery of the law; ineffective anti-corruption agency due to undue interference, lack of adequate resources and lack of professionalism in investigation; lack of determination; lack of strategic partnership and synergy among various stakeholders involved in fighting corruption; lack of international assistance in tackling extra-territorial corruption offences and tracing of corrupt assets. The list of problems is indicative and reflective and not exhaustive and vary from place to place. Having identified the major problems and bottlenecks next step is to prepare a comprehensive anti-corruption strategy, and then to translate the strategy into an action plan for implementation. The strategy can include deterrence, prevention and education as key factors. There will be effective enforcement on major targets, so as to demonstrate to the public the government’s determination to fight corruption at all costs, as well as to demonstrate the effectiveness of the anti-corruption agencies. The successful enforcement stories also provide a basis for public education and act as deterrence for the other corrupt officials. There shall be professional manpower as fighting corruption is a very difficult task, because we are confronting people who are probably very intelligent, knowledgeable and powerful. The prevalence of illegal nexus among various corrupt individuals makes the job more difficult. Thus the corruption fighters must be very professional in their jobs and include investigators, intelligence experts, computer experts, accountants and lawyers etc.
In addition there can be two more separate departments like corruption prevention department which will include management/technical experts and community relations department which pools together education, ethics and public relations experts. Apart from professionalism, all staff are expected to uphold a high level of integrity and to possess a passion and sense of mission in carrying out their duties. The enforcement department strives to be highly professional in their investigations and shall have a dedicated surveillance team having expert manpower deployed on permanent basis. We also require specialized units such as witness protection, computer forensics and financial investigation. There shall be effective deterrence strategy which include an effective public complaint system to encourage reporting of corruption by members of the public and referrals from other institutions and a quick response system to deal with complaints that require prompt action and zero tolerance policy. So long as there is reasonable suspicion, all reports of corruption, irrespective of whether it is serious or relatively minor in nature, will be properly investigated; there will be a review system to ensure all investigations are professionally and promptly investigated; any successful enforcement will be publicized in the media to demonstrate effectiveness and to deter the corrupt. There will be an effective corruption prevention strategy aims at reducing the corruption opportunities in Government departments and public institutions, through enhancement of system control and staff integrity; streamlining procedures with efficiency, transparency and accountability and ensuring proper supervisory checks and control; staff code of ethics. There shall be effective education strategy like adequate media publicity to ensure that effective enforcement cases are well publicized through press releases, media conferences and interviews, as well as the making of a TV drama series based on successful cases; use of mass media commercials to encourage the public to report corruption; promote public awareness of the evils of corruption and the need for a fair and just society, and as a deterrence to the corrupt; there shall be school ethics education programme starting from primary schools up to the universities; corruption prevention talks and ethics development seminars for public servants and business sectors; issuance of corruption prevention best practices and guidelines; organize exhibitions, fairs, television variety shows to spread the message of a clean society; wide use of websites for publicity and reference, youth education and ethics development. There shall be adequate law with punitive provisions regarding offence for any civil servant to accept gifts, loans, discounts and passage, even if there is no related corrupt dealings, unless specific permission is given; possession of assets disproportionate to his official income; or living above means. On investigative power, apart from the normal police power of search, arrest and detention, the anti-corruption organization shall have the power to check bank accounts, require witnesses to answer questions on oath, restrain properties suspected to be derived from corruption, and hold the suspect’s travel documents to prevent them from fleeing the jurisdiction. Not only are they empowered to investigate corruption offences, both in the government and private sectors, they can investigate all crimes which are connected with corruption.
There shall be a proper review mechanism to prevent abuse of such wide power. While framing law about corruption offences, equal emphasis shall be given to public and private sector corruption to avoid double standards in society. Private sector corruption can cause as much damage to society, if not more so than public sector corruption. Serious corruption in financial institutions can cause market instability; corruption in the construction sector can result in dangerous structures. There shall be a co-ordinated and partnership approach wherein everyone in the community and every institution has a role to play which include civil service commission, all Government departments; business community; professional bodies; civic societies and community organizations ; educational institutions ; mass media ; international networking. In addition, top political will, independence and adequate resources are required to eradicate corruption. Every society and nation has to examine its unique circumstances and come up with a comprehensive strategy, based on deterrence, prevention and education. Ideally there should be a dedicated and independent anti-corruption agency to co-ordinate and implement such strategy, and to mobilize support from the community. Corruption requires a dedicated approach whereby all corruption syndicates existing in the Government/ public as well as private sectors require to be smashed within stipulated time frame. Given a top political will, a dedicated anti-corruption agency and a correct strategy, even the most corrupt place can be transformed into a clean society. It is most apt to conclude with the words of Jose Angel Gurria, Secretary General, OECD, “Integrity, transparency and the fight against corruption have to be part of the culture. They have to be taught as fundamental values”.
( The author is presently posted as SSP (Poonch-Rajouri Wing) in Anti-Corruption Bureau J&K and views expressed by him are personal )