Welcome to the never-never land where we discuss how to eradicate corruption… the digital space! Even here, “how to eradicate corruption” is a never-never land, for the Spark platform is one of the few to invite readers and contributors on their thoughts on how to eradicate corruption! I am not being sarcastic, neither am I being – or trying to be – funny. The fact of the matter is that most of us have now come to accept corruption as a part of daily life, as something we need to adjust to.

 

THE BACKGROUND

The world around us, at least in our nation, regard corruption as de-rigueur, that is – a given. We ourselves are active participants in corruption – either as bribe takers, or as bribe givers. Any person who believes otherwise is called a fool, and has to suffer snide remarks as well as problems in the job. Any person who plays too straight, has to suffer continuous job losses in the private sector, or regular frequent transfers in the public sector. Each scam has innocents as silent : when people say “I am doing no wrong, so why should I squeal?”; worse, most scams require the participation of loads of people in the middle class – for example, falsifying accounts requires cooperation of every person in the know. And on and so forth. In such a depressing scenario, how can one eradicate corruption?

 

ERADICATING CORRUPTION

From the above shortened brief, we can see that corruption is endemic : at high levels and low; at social levels as well, since the majority accepts it as a given. Thus, in the light of the endemic nature of the problem, a few basic parameters can be drawn :

  • First, the problem is endemic, as the large majority would rather pay a bribe than try it the straight way. Not only that, many times the people themselves offer bribes or check for bribe rates to get things done. Thus, this assumes the nature of a multi-layered, involved and highly complex problem which will require a multi-layered approach
  • People even state that some level of corruption is good, that it is neither feasible nor desirable to do away with corruption in totality
  • The problem has systemic and cultural overtones as it has widespread acceptance combined with a lack of dependable {in the public eye, that is} recourse in case someone wants to fight it
  • It will require a lot of time for us to emerge out of this morass, as unless the majority refuses to pay a bribe, refuses to take a shortcut, regards corruption and giving bribes as morally and ethically wrong and unacceptable – things are not likely to change. Systemic changes will need to be combined with social steps for it to be a complete solution.
  • Given its deep roots, a simplistic solution – or short term movements etc, are not likely to succeed. Simplistic solutions cannot cater to all layers of the problem, and movements are risky in that firstly they cannot be sustained for a long time; and secondly, there is the risk of things getting out of hand in movements.

 

From the above, we can draw a few conclusions : namely, in order that we think of eradicating corruption, we need to first understand the nature of the corruption problem and define it in its entirety; next, we need to examine its feasibility, and finally, we need to figure out an action plan that caters to the ultimate aim of eradication of corruption. This is, at the best of times, a very tall order – far beyond the scope of a single article on social media. But I can, at least, attempt to outline the problem and all its levels as occur to me.

 

UNDERSTANDING THE LEVEL OF THE PROBLEM

From the preamble above, and from our own experiences, we can surmise that there are levels of this problem. For example, a local official asking for a 10-rupee or 100-rupee bribe is a different problem; a local or higher official asking for a large bribe is another aspect; collusion of officials at local levels with industry  third aspect; natonal or regional level scams are entirely another aspect. And that doesn’t even touch the private corruption – private players asking favours from other companies; internal corruption by employees like padding of bills and so on. This is a highly complex, multi-layered problem.

 

Perhaps the biggest mistake we all make is that we see corruption as this single entity; it is not one entity, but a collection of intertwined inter-related entities. The small clerk taking 10/- is not part of a chain; the large bribe has many cuts in it, and several people may be sharing it; collusion of private and government is something that is much more complex with layers of industrial, legal and bureaucratic issues to be considered, and corruption in private companies is something entirely divergent from these. At the top of the cake are two aspects – national scams & frauds, and the moral turpitude of the people. Thus, it is vital that we break down the corruption problem into its constituent problems, study them piecemeal, and understand their linkages and now they feed off each other. These layers are :

  • Political
  • Bureaucratic – higher levels
  • Bureaucratic – lower levels
  • Moral turpitude or laxity in the people
  • Individual corruption
  • Industry – Government interface corruption
  • Private enterprise corruption

 

MORAL TURPITUDE
The word turpitude means depraved or wicked behaviour or character. These words may sound exceptionally hard to some; but there is no other word I can find for this. How is it morally an acceptable behaviour if you have to pay for something that is by right yours? Or something that you could access without the same? Further, by giving bribes, and accepting bribery as part of the game, one introduces inefficiencies that can cause serious damage down the line to innocent people. This is on record, and there are instances where such damage has occurred. Corruption is not acceptable, should not be acceptable, at any level, howsoever small. There is no such thing as acceptable level of corruption.

 

I can think of two instances where moral turpitude played a major role : at least in some middle  class people. In one major case, I can recall reading of how a bribe by some officers lead to disaster of national proportions. In another case, an international company fraud was exposed related to document fraud and financial fraud; it is simple to see the morality issue here. Those excel sheets – they had to be made by someone; those bribes – those who accepted them were middle class officers. More recently, a major financial fraud has been alleged – again, some people involved were salaried normal people. Where do you draw the line that this is the acceptable level? How can you ensure that your acceptable level will not cause public damage? Or damage to innocents? And under what law of Man or God is taking bribes-  just for doing your duty – defined as acceptable? If this isn’t moral turpitude, what is?

 

INDIVIDUAL CORRUPTION

Thus, we are living in a period when it can be assumed that a large number of people have flexible morals, that a large number of people will cut corners for selfish reasons, and care nought for the public good. Many a times we offer bribes to get away; the public might initiate. I know, since I have on occasion been advised to do just that – give a bribe. It is this bedrock of reality that creates the conditions that embolden the people to move on to more organized and potentially damaging forms of corruption. When you think that the chances are that people will either ignore, or willingly participate, or allow it to happen, then the last barriers that prevent you from going corrupt vanish.

 

This assumption – right or wrong – of willing participation in, or tolerance of, corruption in an atmosphere of a slow judicial process and laxity in enforcement is what creates the conditions for corruption. Since morals are compromised, there is no strong internal barrier. The individual places a greater emphasis on self benefit over public benefit. If there was a fear in the corrupt person’s mind that my actions will lead to public censure, or worse, the chances of people keeping to the straight and narrow increase. This is social pressure in action – and the absence of this social peer pressure is one of the contributory factors in corruption.

 

BUREAUCRATIC – LOWER LEVEL

There is nothing that can be said that hasn’t already been said; all of us know only too well what this implies –  be it getting a Driving Licence, or be it getting a Marriage Registration, or be it getting land related issues. All of us have faced this at some time or the other. And all of us complain – do we have the right to complain? Do we, the whiners, always follow all laws of man and God, as laid down by the laws and by whatever religion we profess to follow? Do we not acquiesce and give a bribe? Are we not part of the problem? Are we modals of high values, morals in all aspects? Yup – pehelaa pathar who maare jisne paap naa kiyaa ho, jo paapi naa ho.

 

BUREAUCRATIC – HIGHER LEVELS / POLITICAL / INDUSTRY

This is the level where things get serious, complex and involved. This is also hopelessly intertwined with Industrial corruption & Political corruption; these 3 are inseperable in reality. This is the level of our scams, our big news of the day-month-week-year. And this is the precise level which does not concern me; for this is the top layer. It is impossible to separate these three in  a short article on a digital magazine, or a blog. This is, and has been, the subject of entire books that have been written, one or two of which I have had the pleasure of reading.

 

These scams are created for various reasons; to just earn plain good old money; to gain competitive advantage; to exploit some situation; to take advantage of loopholes; or for much more serious and devastating reasons, which cannot be covered here. Be it any scam – pick any from public memory. Chances are it will have all these three layers – Bureaucratic, Political and Industry level corruption. There is always at least two of the above three involved.

 

CONCLUSIONS – FOR NOW

From the above, we can see that this animal we call corruption is actually a very complex, mutli-headed creature with deep roots. Media and the people all get angry when a large scam is exposed; I agree that scams are a drain on national resources which we cannot afford. Also agreed that leakage of big money is pulling us back, that big scams are reducing our competitive edge and on on – but that is the subject of the next article in this corruption debate. These aspects require a much deeper study and analysis.

 

But tell me this – will catching all the big scams end the small corruption that plagues our industry, our lives? What affects us directly – the small corruption, or the bigger one? Will it improve local problems, and drags on productivity – like hiring sub-standard people as they are connected, or are referenced? Isnt that also a form of corruption? Will it give me my Marriage Registration without a bribe, or a Driving Licence and so on? Will it solve the problem that a large number of people do not see the act of giving a bribe as fundamentally wrong? Will it solve the problem emanating from our pusillanimous silence of and tolerance towards short cuts and morally suspect acts on a smaller scale?

 

The problems that we face will remain. Removing big scams is essential – but it is equally essential for us to understand that one of the reasons is the low level of moral resistance and outrage we attach to corruption. It is essential that we understand that these small habits, this horrible acceptance of small corruption, this refusal to recognize this moral turpitude {we can also call it a lack of civic responsibility} as a major contributory factor – is also a major problem in our society.

 

Corruption is as much a social issue as it is a legal and developmental issue. Till such time as a large number of Indians regard the short-cut as good without a deeper value-based evaluation; till such time as the means are considered inferior to the end objective; till such time as we regard the one who plays straight to be a fool; till such time that we regard personal and family benefit in each and every endeavour as being of greater importance than public good – corruption will remain an issue…

 

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