Tall Or­der!

South Asia to­day reeks with cor­rup­tion among politi­cians and pub­lic ser­vants. Is there a way out?

Southasia - - Front page - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

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.

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