Our country’s record of corruption is dismal and doesn’t auger well for the future. Unless there is political will and laws to fight this scourge, governance is blighted
By Ramesh Menon
Here is a statistic that no Indian would be proud of: Transparency International ranks India 76 out of 168 countries in the Corruption Perception Index for 2015. Further, on a scale of 0-100 (where zero denotes highly corrupt and 100 denotes very clean), India ranks 38.
Corruption has been eating into the vitals of Indian democracy for decades now. It has only progressively got worse in recent years. So much so that many of us think that it is unavoidable. Many see it as normal and not immoral. That is disturbing. The corrupt have turned and twisted the system to suit them and have thrived. Many have prospered.
Corrupt politicians who have been convicted have been rewarded at the electoral hustings. Corrupt bureaucrats have been promoted. Whistleblowers fighting corruption have been targeted, victimized or killed. In recent years, India has seen numerous instances of corruption in the field of politics, bureaucracy and among corporates, be it in the shape of frauds, embezzlement of public funds or fraudulent procurement practices. It is certainly not a pretty picture.
This is despite a fairly well-developed legal and institutional framework which uses institutions like the CBI, Comptroller and Auditor General and the Central Vigilance Commission. ML Sharma, former Special Director, CBI said: “There has to be a political will to fight corruption. To ensure enforcement, good honest people have to put in critical positions. Good prosecutors have been withdrawn in cases so that the government loses and the corrupt win.”
In recent years, the Supreme Court has taken a firm stance against corruption with several important rulings that have punished the corrupt in high places. The enactment of the Right to Information Act in 2005 which granted ordinary citizens access to government information, was a revolutionary step in bringing in transparency and keeping a tab on public spending. But a lot remains to be done as the corrupt find loopholes and use intimidation against RTI activists.
Prof Nikos Passas, Distinguished Professor, International Anti-Corruption Academy, Vienna, said that corruption is actually a violation of human rights. “It is demoralizing to any society and can bring an economy down. Look at projects financed by the World Bank. Look at the quality of construction and you can see how deep corruption has seeped in. Despite billions of dollars being spent, good governance is not happening in many places in the world. Unless there is political will, it cannot be rooted out. Laws have to change to fight corruption as there is too much of bureaucracy,” he said.
All over the world, corruption has been seen to be a stumbling block towards progress. It has been an obstacle to economic and social development. But as vested interests build strong lobbies and manipulate the system, they triumph. Can all this be stemmed or changed? The newly launched Indian wing of the Anti-Corruption Academy (ACA) thinks it can. As corruption can be a significant roadblock in good governance, the ACA hopes that with its various programs, it can create a culture that respects integrity and accountability. It plans to produce, manage and disseminate anti-corruption knowledge and good governance practices. It wants to engage with political parties, academia and media to achieve this.
Towards this end, the Academy will conduct a two-year, part-time Masters Program for working executives and practitioners. A program on Ethical Workplace Training in India will include modules on compliance, integrity and fairness, diversity and respect, information security, handling conflicts of interest, health and safety, alcohol and drug abuse, sexual harassment, political activities, workplace violence, bribery and kickbacks, anti-competitive conduct and dealing with ethical violations. Former foreign secretary Salman Haider told India Legal: “Corruption is unacceptable. If Indians are adequately motivated, they could initiate a citizen-driven movement to fight corruption.”
A FICCI survey showed that corruption, bribery and corporate fraud are among the topmost risks in India. Dr GS Bajpai, Registrar, National Law University, said: “Corruption is an informal institution today rooted in the social ethos. The private sector is a major player in influencing the anti-corruption strategy in India. If private players are involved in public activity, they should be brought under the purview of the corruption law.” Bajpai advocates that the only way to fight corruption is to enforce laws, increase the risk of being detected, caught and punished, stigmatizing corruption and removing excuses for corrupt behaviour like secrecy in the government.
Richard Stockdale, Trustee and Board Member, Chartered Institute of Securities, United Kingdom, said: “Corruption in India had reached a point where it is a way of life. It is seriously serious. India today has one-sixth of the global population with 50 percent below the age of 25 who have their dreams and aspirations. By 2020, India will be the most populous country in the world and will have to feed and employ a huge population. For this, it has to be a shining example of efficiency. Corruption does not facilitate efficiency. It does not encourage people to work hard. It does not allow optimum respect for the leaders of India. So, the mantra should be that corruption is not okay for India.”
However, it is not just India that is affected. It is worrying many nations. Former chief information commissioner Deepak Sandhu said that a national movement must be started to fight corruption by forging collaborations with global partners. Dominic Le Moignan, Director, GovRisk Institute, London, who has studied anti-corruption methods and financial crime in over 40 countries, found that 83 percent of deaths due to earthquakes were in countries where corruption was very high and so construction standards were very poor. Moignan said: “Trust in the judicial process is very important as people should see that people are brought to justice. The Panama Papers have made countries realise that a large amount of its money is stacked in tax havens around the world.”
Slowly, things are moving in India. In 2007, the government sniffed out 800 suspicious financial transactions. Today, it is detecting nearly 8,000 such transactions every month. PK Tiwari, Director, Financial Intelligence Unit, Ministry of Finance said: “Corruption and money-laundering are closely associated as both work to whitewash the proceeds of crime. The biggest challenge for financial intelligence sleuths is the lack of authentic information on criminals or criminal activity. A system must be created by which any financial institution which feels that a transaction may have come out of committing a crime, should be able to report it. But for this, they must have the capacity to identify loaded transactions.”
The BJP got a resounding majority in the last Lok Sabha elections as it vigorously rode on an anti-corruption plank, vowing to root it out and ensure that black money stacked abroad would be brought back home. For millions of young voters, it seemed that the winds of change would soon swish through India. They are still waiting. Corruption is a scourge and has to be fought. Every day, thousands of Indians turn 18 and dream of a better life, a better India. The country cannot let them down.