The Scourge of Cor­rup­tion

South Asian states are in­her­i­tors of colo­nial ad­min­is­tra­tions or­ga­nized to ex­tract rev­enues and main­tain pub­lic or­der. Be­ing cit­i­zen-ori­ented was not the core man­date of the State. De­cen­tral­iza­tion of au­thor­ity and in­sti­tut­ing lo­cal ac­count­abil­ity mechani

Southasia - - Cover story - By Raza Rumi

The late In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Ra­jiv Gandhi fa­mously com­plained that only 15 cents of ev­ery dol­lar spent by the govern­ment reached the poor. This was stated some­time in the 1990s and in a prover­bial sense holds true to this day. The post-colo­nial South Asian states have dis­played great propen­sity to nur­ture and main­tain huge bu­reau­cra­cies, which alas are not ac­count­able. Whilst in In­dia the politi­cians have man­aged to sub­or­di­nate the pub­lic ser­vants to their agen­das and whims, in other coun­tries the bureau­cracy as a colo­nial relic re­tains au­ton­o­mous pow­ers. In Pak­istan, the bu­reau­cratic com­plex may not re­tain the tra­di­tional dom­i­nance but it has man­aged to evade ac­count­abil­ity mech­a­nisms – in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal – thereby mak­ing the task of re­spon­sive gov­er­nance and achiev­ing trans­parency rather dif­fi­cult.

Lit­tle won­der that pub­lic sec­tor spend­ing in the re­gion has re­sulted in sub­op­ti­mal re­sults. The ram­pant cor­rup­tion in the pub­lic sec­tor in South Asian coun­tries and the ab­sence of ef­fec­tive mon­i­tor­ing sys­tems has fed into the syn­drome which Bill East­erly de­fined in the con­text of Pak­istan: ‘growth with­out de­vel­op­ment.’ Cor­rup­tion also acts as a ma­jor bar­rier to growth by pro­vid­ing strong dis­in­cen­tives to po­ten­tial in­vestors. The state is the ma­jor provider of ba­sic pub­lic

ser­vices such as drink­ing water, power, health and ed­u­ca­tion. Cor­rup­tion there­fore tends to have a more vis­i­ble and tan­gi­ble im­pact on the lives of or­di­nary peo­ple es­pe­cially the dis­ad­van­taged poor in the re­gion.

The Cor­rup­tion Per­cep­tion In­dex (CPI) de­vised by Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional (TI) is a rough mea­sure of how cit­i­zens, busi­nesses and oth­ers view the is­sue of cor­rup­tion. Ta­ble 1 com­pares the CPI of the main coun­tries in the re­gion from 2006 to 2010.

A com­par­i­son of the cor­rup­tion per­cep­tion in­dex of the re­gion from 2006 till 2010 re­veals a pes­simistic pic­ture. Cor­rup­tion lev­els have not changed sub­stan­tially over the years and the level of cor­rup­tion has stayed sta­tion­ary. An­other way of view­ing cor­rup­tion in the in­ter­na­tional con­text is to see how the re­gional coun­tries fare. Ta­ble 2 out­lines coun­try rank­ings.

A closer look at the coun­try rank­ings from 2006 to 2010 shows many vari­a­tions. In­dia, Pak­istan, Sri Lanka and Nepal demon­strate de­cline in their rank while per­cep­tions on Bangladesh and Bhutan have un­der­gone marked im­prove­ment. Pak­istan’s CPI rank from a high of 134 in 2008 to 143 in 2010 sug­gests a rel­a­tive in­crease in cor­rup­tion dur­ing the re­cent years. The CPI ranks of In­dia and Sri Lanka have only mod­estly de­clined since 2006. Bangladesh on the other hand has reg­is­tered a rel­a­tive im­prove­ment in its cor­rup­tion record, from CPI rank of 162 in 2007 to a rank of 134 in 2010. TI sur­veys have also been crit­i­cized for their re­liance on ‘per­cep­tions’ as op­posed to se­ri­ous re­search and hard data. Nev­er­the­less, they give some crude over­view; and are use­ful for com­par­a­tive pur­poses.

TI sur­veys pro­vide some use­ful in­sights on cor­rup­tion by sec­tors. In 2002, TI pub­lished a re­port on the South Asian re­gion wherein sev­eral cor­rup­tion trends were com­mon to the re­gion. In four out of the five coun­tries sur­veyed, the po­lice was per­ceived as the most cor­rupt sec­tor in the coun­tries. In Nepal, where the land ad­min­is­tra­tion topped the list of the most cor­rupt sec­tor, the po­lice was per­ceived as the third most cor­rupt sec­tor in the coun­try. Re­spon­dents in Bangladesh, In­dia and Sri Lanka listed Health as the sec­ond most cor­rupt sec­tor. The power sec­tor was listed as the sec­ond most cor­rupt sec­tor in Pak­istan and the third most cor­rupt in In­dia. While the sur­vey is old, the trends by and large re­main the same given the re­sults of re­cent stud­ies and me­dia re­ports.

Cit­i­zens suf­fer from the harm­ful ef­fects of cor­rup­tion on a daily ba­sis. Se­cu­rity and such other en­ti­tle­ments are ei­ther de­nied or be­come in­ac­ces­si­ble due to the rent seek­ing be­hav­ior of the states. In all the South Asian coun­tries, the me­dia and su­pe­rior courts have emerged as ma­jor means of ex- ter­nal ac­count­abil­ity of the ex­ec­u­tive ex­cesses and cor­rupt prac­tices. The ex­pe­ri­ence of cen­tral bod­ies to tackle cor­rup­tion at the high­est lev­els has been mixed. Whilst the In­dian Cen­tral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion (CBI) has shown some re­sults, the cen­tral bod­ies in Pak­istan and Bangladesh in re­cent years were viewed as in­stru­ments of witch hunt­ing and ‘fix­ing’ po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents. This is a ma­jor les­son for adopt­ing the easy route of hav­ing a high pro­file an­ti­cor­rup­tion body and not fo­cus­ing on a sys­tems ap­proach.

South Asian states are in­her­i­tors of a colo­nial ad­min­is­tra­tion or­ga­nized to ex­tract rev­enues and main­tain pub­lic or­der. Be­ing cit­i­zen-ori­ented was not the core man­date of the state. Af­ter In­de­pen­dence, the colo­nial in­sti­tu­tions have sur­vived and have not been re­struc­tured in a ma­jor way. De­cen­tral­iza­tion of au­thor­ity and in­sti­tut­ing lo­cal ac­count­abil­ity mech­a­nisms there­fore is the way for­ward. Sadly, lo­cal gov­ern­ments in Pak­istan and Bangladesh are not strong and largely man­aged by cen­trally ap­pointed bu­reau­crats. The In­dian model of lo­cal democ­racy is a more ro­bust one though it has its own sets of is­sue in­clud­ing vary­ing lo­cal re­sources and in­ter­face with pow­er­ful ad­min­is­tra­tors and mag­is­trates. Nepal is un­der­go­ing a struc­tural trans­for­ma­tion and the shape of gov­er­nance ar­chi­tec­ture is yet to emerge though a great be­gin­ning has been made by in­tro­duc­tion of a lo­cal govern­ment sys­tem.

Given the mis­trust of peo­ple in pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions, it is also im­per­a­tive that in­ter­nal ac­count­abil­ity mech­a­nisms be im­proved across the pub­lic sec­tor. In­ter­nal au­dits, mon­i­tor­ing of re­sults and track­ing of ex­pen­di­tures can im­prove the way state works.

Par­tic­i­pa­tory bud­get­ing is an­other tool suc­cess­fully em­ployed in Latin Amer­ica and parts of Asia where cit­i­zen mon­i­tor­ing and feed­back dur­ing bud­get prepa­ra­tion al­lows for bet­ter uti­liza­tion of scarce re­sources; and ful­fill­ment of pri­or­i­ties iden­ti­fied by the cit­i­zens and tax­pay­ers.

The re­cent mid­dle class move­ment in In­dia against cor­rup­tion in­di­cates the wide­spread im­pa­tience with cor- rup­tion. This is a crit­i­cal mo­ment in South Asian his­tory. Its key coun­tries are all be­ing gov­erned un­der demo­cratic rule, have vi­brant civil so­ci­eties; and pow­er­ful me­dia over­sight. Bhutan, tra­di­tion­ally a monar­chy, is mov­ing to­wards a democ­racy as well. Cor­rup­tion is in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked to pub­lic sec­tor re­form. This may be the right time to re­form the way state works and re­duce op­por­tu­ni­ties for rent seek­ing and in­stances of malfea­sance. South Asia can­not achieve peace and sta­bil­ity with­out tack­ling poverty, pro­vid­ing eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties and en­sur­ing trans­par­ent gov­er­nance. All of these re­forms will go a long way in re­duc­ing cor­rup­tion in the re­gion.

Ta­ble 2: CPI Rank 2006-2010

Ta­ble 1: CPI 2006-2010

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