Focus on Corruption

Curbing corruption needs focus

By Roopen Roy Apr 19 2011

Tags: Op-ed

It does not matter whether Anna Hazare is a saint or a limelight-seeking social activist. It is also irrelevant whether Pappu Yadav, a former MP facing a life sentence for murder, fasted in sympathy from his prison cell in Bihar, or that Narendra Modi wrote Hazare a letter of advice. In our Puranas, in the ‘Samudra Manthan’ episode, both demons and gods joined hands to churn the ocean of milk in search of a good cause (the nectar of life).

The specific reason for Hazare’s fast was to compel the UPA government to enact the Lokpal (ombudsman) Bill. But the groundswell of anger, which we saw across our civil society, indicated two things: People are fed up with corruption in our country and they are not willing to trust politicians alone to fix corruption because many of them are part of the problem and not the solution.

Kaushik Basu, the chief economic adviser to our finance minister, has, in a working paper, argued that decriminalising bribe-paying would cause a sharp decline in bribery incidents. Such proposals are certainly not new and have not proven to have worked in curbing corruption. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act 1977 was enacted more than three decades ago in the US. Under this legislation, ‘speed-money’ and ‘bakshish’ in a foreign land are not illegal but corruption is.

Instead of making the life of bribe-givers easier, what we need is a tough and speedy prosecution process that will result in the dismantling of a thriving corruption ecosystem. Unfortunately, policy makers and economic advisers have been slow to grasp and even slower to acknowledge the corrosive effects of corruption on economic and social development and have made a mockery of the slogan of inclusive growth.

In order to uproot large-scale corruption, one must examine its true nature. Big-time corruption survives through an efficient, global supply chain. It has a giver, a taker and a safe-keeper. It is usually a cross-border, multi-currency phenomenon. Unfortunately, the media focuses only on the taker who has been caught in the net. Rarely are the big fish who are the ‘givers’ and ‘safe keepers’ exposed because they have connections in high places, including politicians, law enforcers and the media.

While we see the photographs of the former telecom minister A Raja every day and hear about the hundreds of crores received as alleged bribes by Madhu Koda, the former Jharkhand chief minister, we do not even know the names of those who bribed them. It is like thunderous silence of a one-handed clap. We have caught the receiver in the net but what about the bribe-givers?

This hypocrisy is not an Indian phenomenon. It is global. The last time the Berlin-based Transparency International had published the Bribe Payers Index was in 2008. It has not published an updated version since. According to this index, Belgium is the cleanest with the top rank, Switzerland is ranked third, the UK is ranked fifth and the US is ranked ninth. The dirtiest are India at 19, Mexico at 20, China at 21 and Russia at 22. A total of 22 countries were surveyed and, therefore, Russia is the last boy in the class. In the Corruption Perception Index, which was published in October 2010, India is pretty bad at 87 out of 178 countries surveyed and bracketed with Liberia and Jamaica. Switzerland is ranked eighth, better than Norway, and the UK and the US are at 20 and 22 respectively — not bad at all. Transparency International does not publish a bribe-keeper’s survey. Where do the criminals, drug lords,

gun-runners and corrupt politicians like Qaddafi and Hosni Mubarak keep their money for safe-keeping? No prizes for guessing. So if the western countries are very clean, then we should assume that China, India, Russia and Mexico are bribing themselves in a closed-user group mode. Is this a reasonable proposition?

In a speech to the World Bank on December 7, 2010, US senator Patrick Leahy said, “We have seen the stain of corruption at all levels of our government and across both political parties, including the impeachment of judges and convictions of members of Congress and state and local officials. This misconduct, and the abuse of public funds, has at times, shaken the confidence Americans have in their government.”

He added that unless the US led by example and clamped down on corruption and fraud at home, it would not have the moral right either to lead or to preach. “The United States is cracking down aggressively on violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. In the past two years, the justice department charged more than 50 individuals and collected nearly $2 billion in criminal fines in cases related to this law,” he said. The UK is following suit.

Leahy has also introduced an ‘anti-kleptocracy” law. It seeks to deny US visas for officials of foreign governments and their immediate family members who have been involved in corruption. “There is no shortage of countries whose children are hungry and dying of curable diseases, while corrupt public officials siphon off the profits from oil, gas, timber and mining; drive expensive cars and own extravagant ho mes in Malibu or the French Riviera. These officials treat their country’s natural resources as their own bank account,” he said.

The task at hand is to stay focused and tough in dismantling the ecosystem of the giver, taker and keeper of bribes through globally coordinated action and to aim at the big fish and not the little, red herrings.

(The writer is managing director of Deloitte Consulting, India. These are his personal views)