South Asia today reeks with corruption among politicians and public servants. Is there a way out?
Corruption is at the root of all problems in South Asia. A collective political will and strong systems are needed to hasten the region’s development and shake the people out of continued poverty.
“The cup of the eyes of the greedy is never filled; As long as the mother of pearl did not become contented she was not filled with a pearl.”
I- Jalaluddin Rumi
ndia and Pakistan together seem to lead the world in corruption. Though bureaucrats - both civil and military as well as politicians are the most afflicted but the malaise has spread to every segment of the society including educational institutions and the media. The former have been involved in issuing fake degrees and journalists have been involved in suppressing damaging reports for a consideration.
Of course, as befits its size and resources, India “shines,” with mega-corruptions. But Pakistan is not far behind. Corruption has become so endemic you have to pay a “fee” even to get a service to which you are entitled, such as a driving license.
India is currently reeling under the impact of several mammoth scandals; the 2-G spectrum scam, the Commonwealth Games and cash-for-votes. The loss to the exchequer due to under-pricing of second generation (2G) frequency-spectrum licenses by the Communications and Information Technology (CIT) Ministry in 2008 is estimated at Rupees 176,379 crores. In 2011, TIME magazine listed the 2G spectrum scam as number two on their “Top 10 Abuses of Power” list (just behind the Watergate scandal). The impressive list of people involved in the classic scam includes politicians of all hues, businessmen and media persons.
A. Raja was Minister of Communications and Information Technol- ogy when the controversial spectrum allocations took place. He is now under detention and is being prosecuted. But analysts say that the rot had started when BJP was in power. It was Arun Shourie, Telecom minister during 2003 who introduced the controversial technology neutral “Unified Access License” that “allowed fixed line operators who had paid much lower license fees to offer mobile phone services.” The complicity of politicians, journalists and corporate houses was discovered serendipitously, when the Income tax department started tapping the telephone of Nira Radia, a corporate lobbyist and stumbled upon some of her “explosive conversations” with politi-
cians from Karunanidhi to Arun Jaitley, journalists Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi and industrial groups like the Tatas. Barkha Dutt, an NDTV journalist, was alleged to have lobbied for A. Raja’s appointment as minister. And Vir Sanghvi, Hindustan Times editor was alleged to have edited articles to reduce blame in the Nira Radia tapes.
In the 2010 Commonwealth Games (CWG) scam, Suresh Kalmadi, its former chief, is held responsible for awarding a contract at an inflated cost of 141 crores to Omega, a Swiss watch company. And in the cash-forvotes scandal the ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, allegedly bribed MPs in order to survive a confidence vote on 22 July 2008. The vote in the Lok Sabha arose after the Left Front, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), withdrew support from the government, because it was pursuing the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal. Involved in this case is Amar Singh, former Samajwadi Party general secretary.
The above shows that no political party is free from corruption. Raja is affiliated to Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). Kalmadi belongs to the Congress and Singh to the Samajwadi party. All the three are awaiting trial. In the latest sweep the CBI arrested former Karnataka tourism minister and mining baron G. Janardhana Reddy and recovered 30 kg gold and Rs 1.5 crore cash from his residence. He and his brother Karunakara Reddy are accused of running an illegal mining empire. Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, and UP Chief Minister Mayawati are facing charges in the respective courts for accumulating wealth “disproportionate to known sources of income.”
As to corruption among bureaucrats, India’s Outlook magazine in its August issue revealed that “the assets of an IAS officer-couple in Madhya Pradesh were valued at Rs. 360 crore. They had 25 flats in three cities.” But there is also a contrast. In the same issue the Outlook also mentions U. Sagyam, district collector of Madurai. “Two years ago …. he voluntarily declared his assets: a bank balance of Rs. 7,172 and a house in Madurai worth Rs. 9 lakh. Once, when his baby daughter, Yalini…. was suddenly taken ill, he did not have the Rs. 5,000 needed for admitting her to a private hospital.”
Some states have adopted effective measures to curb the menace. Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has enacted a law under which “the swanky property of an IAS officer was recently seized and converted into a school for underprivileged children.” Another new law, Right to Service Act has been introduced recently “to provide time-bound public services …. such as issuance of driver’s license and other routine permits.” Similarly Delhi government has introduced the Right of Citizen to Time Bound Delivery of Services Act, “to ensure smooth service delivery in 28 categories such as issuance of a new electricity connection, birth and death certificates and ration cards.” A special feature of this law is that besides administrative action, delays will also attract a monetary penalty, deductible from the salary of the erring official.
Meanwhile, Anna Hazare, a Gandhi disciple has made world headlines with his “fast unto death,” to force the government to bring a Jan Lokpal (protector of the people) bill in the parliament. The latter initially tried all ploys, from talks and mudslinging to arrest. But when Hazare remained unfazed and the mass support to his crusade turned into a tsunami, it accepted his demand to bring the prime minister within the Lokpal’s ambit.
Pakistan stands second to India in the corruption race. With its modest means it has offered the Hajj and the NICL scams. The latest piece of news is that an army major “stole” a railway wagon and sold its load of copper for a hefty sum.
But in contrast to India, the government in Pakistan shields the culprits if they belong to the ruling party or its coalition partners. It tries to stymie even the Supreme Court’s effort to bring the offenders to book. Disproportionate assets are never called into question. Politicians acquire properties in Britain, France and America, and maintain accounts in Swiss banks with impunity. Corruption is validated in the name of National Reconciliation. And the country’s president is known worldwide as “Mr. Ten per cent.”
However, the hard fact remains that no legislation and no penalty can eliminate corruption. It is how an individual is “born and taught” that determines their attitudes. The Outlook story (ibid) quotes Sagyam as saying that he learned honesty on his mother’s knees. “Our adjoining field had mango trees and my friends and I would pick the fallen fruit,” he says. “But my mother made me throw the mangoes away, saying I should enjoy only what is mine.” However, a mother can only lay the foundation. It is the spouse with whom a man spends the longest period of his life that most influences his character. If a wife refuses to accept anything beyond her husband’s legitimate earnings, he will not slip. The difference between “needs” and “wants” should be borne in mind. Needs have limits; wants are limitless. Imelda Marcos’ need as the First Lady did not need the 3,000 pairs of shoes he had amassed. Corruption caters to the “wants,” not to satisfy a need. It is the result of the unquenchable desire to have more.