Saturday, January 25, 2014

How to Rapidly Put an End to Corruption--in Six Months or Less

Photo credit: Arne Hückelheim


Recent years have unraveled corruption stories from many countries around the world. Corruption at the governmental and judiciary levels is the most harmful; it percolates from there down to the grass roots level.

That many people at the top levels of bureaucracy play with loop holes in the law, is known to everybody. The Devil can quote even the scriptures. 

Hopefully somebody in public or private administration who has the authority to bring about changes, can consider the views expressed here. This does not exclude laymen from trying to bring an end to corruption. For all change in society begins with oneself.

What is Corruption
Anybody not doing his duty sincerely is being corrupt. This is a very broad definition. But it attempts to make things simple.

What are the reasons for corruption?
Everybody says that corruption is increasing day by day, indicating a fall in moral standards. This seems to imply that people are suddenly losing their honesty.

I would like to differ. Corruption or its seeds have always existed in society. It was just that there were barriers to its free expression. People were afraid of being corrupt. In these days of information explosion, everybody knows what is going at the top level, so the fear has reduced. Also, its more organised.

Who is impervious to corruption?
Only those who have taken up an individual moral standard can preserve their honesty and resist corruption.

The situation  in the Indian subcontinent

India and Pakistan are among the worst hit by this shameless, spineless epidemic. 

In India, recent revelations have increased public awareness of the alarming rate at which corrupt officials at various levels plunder public money.

Let me relate two incidents which illustrate this: In 2010, I needed to remove the bank hypothecation of my car. I approached the RTO (Regional Transport Office) in Wazirpur, Delhi. As I spoke to the concerned official inside, he said, “Aap andar kyon aaye? Ve tho bahar baithe hai”. (Why did you come inside? They (the agents) are outside). Meaning I didn’t need to see him. The agent would deal with everything.

Later I understood why. I had to pay three times the normal charges to get the hypothecation removed. The agent would receive the money, and he would hand over to the officer his dues. I didn’t have time to fight; my home, office, and the RTO were far apart. It was hectic commuting between them. The agent also threatened if I didn’t pay, my papers could get stuck at some officer’s table.

On another occasion, I wanted to have a ration card for ID purposes. I scoured the then (2010) Delhi state government’s website for a contact. Most of the website was outdated. The few phone numbers if you dialed them, nobody would attend.

After a long search, I found out the address of the office concerned and arrived there at around 2 pm. It was inside a residential complex in Timarpur, and without a proper name board, lying invisible from the road.

Inside the compound, there were about ten men playing cricket with a huge racket. At first I thought they were from the residential complex.

I saw the office building nearby, with the counter timings written on it. However, it was closed.

None of the players volunteered to ask me what I wanted. So I approached some senior citizens sitting at the gate.

“They are those responsible,” they said with a frown that hinted at their unhappiness with the situation.

So I stopped a hefty fellow wielding a bat and asked when they would be back inside the office.

“Come tomorrow at 10 am”, was the reply.

“But your office timings are till 5 pm” I tried to reason.

“We have just had lunch and are playing to digest the food. You can have your card tomorrow” came the childish reply, without a wince. He also gave me his number.

By this time a few of his team mates (colleagues) were glaring at me for interrupting the game. I thought it’d be discrete to leave.

Driving the poor into greater poverty

A significant chunk of the population grovels in misery, struggling to make ends meet while the wealth meant for their good is being stashed away in the culprits' illegal bank accounts, splurged on revelry parties, swanky luxury cars, villas, and lecherous pleasure trips.

It is not that the constitution does not have sufficient laws to prevent corruption--it has just become an acceptable, normal practice. You yourself might have had to deal with it at some point. Pollution testing of vehicles, issuing of driving licenses are other areas rife with corruption. They could also explain the high rate of accidents and crime. In the 2012 Dec 16 Delhi gang rape and murder, the accused Ram Singh was able to drive a bus because he was issued a fake driving license.

It is not easy for one person or even a group, to stand up against organized corruption—its tentacles spread across all levels of hierarchy in the system. The media which has been reporting corruption, is itself ensnared in it. You can recall how Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption campaign was effectively defused and silenced. The media played the key role in playing down his message.

Those in power take solace that after all, corruption is not an act of terrorism or violent crime. And they remain silent and complacent, mute spectators (?). Their muteness often leads one to suspect whether they are also complicit. Alas, they do not feel any shame in being accused.

Tragically, the whistle-blowers who report corruption are often targeted and sometimes have to pay with their lives. This confirms the truth of some of the allegations. There is as yet no law to ensure the safety of whistle-blowers. So far, the corrupt can make hay, as the government takes its own sweet time.

Why should we end corruption?

This question is for the corrupt and their beneficiaries. 

When I try to cut short a standard procedure or bypass a rule for myself or my associates, I am undermining the system of which I am a part. I gain short term, however, it erodes the credibility of my system. It ends in complete ruin. 

Imagine cutting off the tree branch on which you are seated. Or digging a pit under one's own feet.

If I am a teacher and I don't try to teach well, then I cease to be a teacher. The teacher dies.

Transparency- the key to ending corruption

People hesitate to commit offences when they are aware that they are being watched. Generally crimes occur under secrecy and anonymity. Daylight crimes do occur, but they are rare, and are of acute or petty nature. 

High level corruption is a chronic disease, festering behind veils of secrecy. When their actions are visible to the whole world, the officials will not dare to commit a crime. The simple reason: Even the worst criminal craves for approval and dignity.

So the solution to ending corruption?
The suggested solution is to make visible to the whole world the proceedings in any public office- ministerial or bureaucratic, starting from the very top, down to the lowest level.

Internet web casting can help in accomplishing this. The current Kerala Chief Minister, Mr.Oommen Chandy, has been web casting his office proceedings, 24 x 7. Webcasts of his office and chamber are available live at Please also see this post.

The cons of using transparent web casting to end corruption
You may ask: but what if the corruption deals are struck outside the office?

Well, in such a case, the minister/ official will have to leave the office for the purpose. At least we will know for how long he attends to his duties in the office, and how punctual he is. He will have to account for the time he was outside the office also. And questions will arise when there is too much 'outage' time.

The main argument against this idea could be the encroachment on the privacy of the individual. But a public servant gives up the claim for privacy when he volunteers to serve the country. Already, many IT companies in India are watching their employees' movements through CCTVs. Who said those higher up in the hierarchy are exempt from such scrutiny?

The second argument against this would be the sizable expense involved in implementing the technology all over the country, in the tens of thousands of public offices. But compared to the size of the recent scams, that would be a mere drop in the ocean. The Coal gate scam alone has cost the exchequer 1, 86,000 Crores of Rupees (338 billion USD).

Let the people decide...or more Arab spring style revolutions are not far off.

But then there will be no time for repair.
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