Hard Task

The strug­gle against cor­rup­tion in South Asia will get an im­pe­tus when com­mon peo­ple who are the vic­tims of the mal­ady unite and form a crit­i­cal mass.

Southasia - - Cover story - By Dr. Moo­nis Ah­mar

“The coun­try­men should not lose this spirit, this is our fight against cor­rup­tion.”

TAnna Hazare

hese days, the name of Anna Hazare (Kisan Babu­rao Hazare) as an icon against cor­rup­tion seems to have in­flu­enced the minds of peo­ple not only in In­dia but the whole of South Asia and be­yond. His ageold strug­gle against cor­rup­tion and other so­cial evils caused not only rip­ples in the cor­ri­dors of power in New Delhi but also pro­vided a strong sense of hope for the peo­ple of his coun­try for a just so­ci­ety. His hunger strike in April and then in Au­gust to force govern­ment en­act ef­fec­tive laws against cor­rup­tion drew wide­spread pop­u­lar sup­port and forced the In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh to ac­qui­esce be­fore his de­mands.

Yet, the bat­tle against cor­rup­tion is an up­hill task be­cause of its en­trenched na­ture and the fail­ure of state au­thor­i­ties to deal with is­sues which pro­mote the abuse of power and nepo­tism in so­ci­ety. When there is poor mode of gov­er­nance and the cul­ture of greed is of­fi­cially pa­tron­ized, there is no way cor­rup­tion can be pre­vented, if not elim­i­nated. But, what is lethal and dan­ger­ous in the men­ace of cor­rup­tion is its abil­ity to cause not only moral de­gen­er­a­tion but also in­dif­fer­ence in so­ci­ety on things which are highly of­fen­sive and of crim­i­nal na­ture. Al­most all the post-colo­nial states suf­fer from the dis­ease of cor­rup­tion par­tic­u­larly where lack of ac­count­abil­ity, frag­ile ju­di­cial sys­tem and po­lit­i­cal pa­tron­age to cor­rupt prac­tices is com­mon. The ques­tion is why the can­cer of cor­rup­tion has per­me­ated in many de­vel­op­ing coun­tries and how in South Asia, the move­ment launched by the fa­mous so­cial ac­tivist Anna Hazare can make a dif­fer­ence in es­tab­lish­ing zero tol­er­ance for cor­rup­tion? Ig­no­rance, poverty, il­lit­er­acy, so­cial back­ward­ness, ab­sence of ac­count­abil­ity and the rule of law con­trib­uted to the mis­use of power by peo­ple hold­ing po­si­tions, a fact which is quite ob­vi­ous but tol­er­ated.

When one looks into the in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion of move­ment against cor­rup­tion un­der the lead­er­ship of Anna Hazare, three ma­jor trends can be

iden­ti­fied. First, In­dia which is the largest coun­try in South Asia, a strong and an or­ga­nized move­ment against cor­rup­tion in that coun­try will have far reach­ing im­pli­ca­tions for the whole of South Asia. For a long pe­riod of time, in­sti­tu­tional cor­rup­tion in In­dia was ac­cepted but the re­cent pop­u­lar out­burst against the men­ace will en­cour­age sim­i­lar as­ser­tions and voices in other coun­tries of the re­gion where deep rooted cor­rup­tion has made the lives of or­di­nary peo­ple mis­er­able. It is not only in govern­ment con­tracts, pur­chases and var­i­ous for­eign deals where the use of bribe is com­mon, small scale cor­rup­tion in the form of tak­ing bribe for do­ing min­i­mum things, is a source of re­sent­ment among com­mon peo­ple. When cor­rup­tion is mak­ing the lives of or­di­nary peo­ple mis­er­able, then peo­ple like Anna Hazare take up the hard task of fight­ing against that men­ace.

Fi­nally, is the trend which has been set by the Ber­lin based Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional (TI), an or­ga­ni­za­tion which pre­pares the world cor­rup­tion in­dex and ex­poses those coun­tries where the con­cerned gov­ern­ments eat up tax payer’s money and beg for more and more for­eign aid. Ac­cord­ing to the de­tails of TI, no South Asian coun­try is free of cor­rup­tion. Whereas, Afghanistan, Pak­istan, Bangladesh, In­dia, Nepal and Sri Lanka are known for not con­trol­ling cor­rup­tion be­cause of weak ac­count­abil­ity mech­a­nisms and the in­volve­ment of pow­er­ful groups, both gov­ern­men­tal and non-gov­ern­men­tal in loot and plun­der; a pol­icy to cover up each oth­ers cor­rupt prac­tices is com­mon. The party in power and also in op­po­si­tion makes sure that they pro­tect each other in a sub­tle man­ner. It is the fear of be­ing ex­posed by TI and other cor­rup­tion watch or­ga­ni­za­tions which will put a check on the un­abated mis­use of pub­lic funds for per­sonal gains. But, it is not only TI or other in­ter­na­tional agen­cies which are mon­i­tor­ing the acts of cor­rup­tion, lo­cal “cor­rup­tion watch” groups are also ac­tive. Anna Hazare and his group is just one ex­am­ple as there are sev­eral so­cial or­ga­ni­za­tions in South Asia try­ing to fight against cor­rup­tion. The only thing is the nexus be­tween cor­rupt el­e­ments from bureau­cracy, politi­cians and other es­tab­lished seg­ments at the state and non-state level who are able to save them­selves from to­tal liq­ui­da­tion.

On all these fronts there is a need to com­bat and fight against cor­rup­tion in South Asia. These fronts can be man­aged with sub­stan­tial po­lit­i­cal will and de­ter­mi­na­tion as a com­pro­mis­ing at­ti­tude will fur­ther en­cour­age those who are not only the icons in cor­rup­tion but also its ben­e­fi­cia­ries. First, in­duct­ing proper work ethics par­tic­u­larly in govern­ment of­fices by pro­mot­ing an environment which dis­cour­ages nepo­tism, fa­voritism and ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity be­cause cor­rupt be­hav­ior and prac­tices get an im­pe­tus when there is lack of ac­count­abil­ity. In so­ci­eties, where there ex­ists proper work ethics, cor­rup­tion has lit­tle scope and ac­cept­abil­ity as a dom­i­nant norm. Sec­ond, the sys­tem of re­ward and pun­ish­ment be­cause those who have an in­tegrity and per­form their du­ties hon­estly are re­warded. Un­for­tu­nately, in South Asia, the par­a­digm has changed be­cause of the lack of pun­ish­ment for those who in­dulge in cor­rup­tion and are able to get away. Cor­rup­tion in South Asia has per­me­ated in ev­ery walk of life be­cause those who try to per­form their du­ties ef­fi­ciently and hon­estly ex­pe­ri­ence vic­tim­iza­tion and dis­crim­i­na­tion. Third, at the ju­di­cial front, laws which tend to pre­vent cor­rupt be­hav­ior and prac­tices and the im­ple­men­ta­tion of anti-cor­rup­tion laws can go a long way in un­leash­ing a process of strict ac­count­abil­ity. No coun­try can claim to be above cor­rup­tion, but in cases where the ju­di­cial sys­tem is not ef­fi­cient and trans­par­ent, cor­rupt prac­tic- es can get plenty of space. Fourth, at the pop­u­lar front, un­less masses re­ject can­di­dates in elec­tions who are ei­ther cor­rupt or can be cor­rupt­ible, one can­not hope to erad­i­cate cor­rup­tion. In this re­gard, the elec­tion com­mis­sion in the South Asian coun­tries must be made independent and pow­er­ful to dis­qual­ify can­di­dates af­ter seek­ing gen­uine ev­i­dence, who are in­volved in mone­tary or moral cor­rup­tion. Fifth, at the eco­nomic front, ac­cess of peo­ple to equal eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties and ne­ces­si­ties of life will help re­duce and then elim­i­nate cor­rupt be­hav­ior and prac­tices. The bulk of cor­rup­tion takes place in a so­ci­ety where poverty, un­der-de­vel­op­ment, so­cial back­ward­ness and dis­crim­i­na­tion on the ba­sis of race, gender and place of ori­gin are com­mon. Bet­ter gov­er­nance, rule of law and ac­count­abil­ity are the three fun­da­men­tal re­quire­ments to ef­fec­tively deal with the men­ace of cor­rup­tion. Fi­nally, at the so­cial and cul­tural front, by en­cour­ag­ing best prac­tices and ad­vo­cacy for char­ac­ter build­ing one can ex­pect the new gen­er­a­tion in South Asia to con­front the men­ace of cor­rup­tion in a force­ful man­ner. The ero­sion of ethics and so­cial val­ues in the last sev­eral decades or so pro­vided enor­mous space to those in­di­vid­u­als and groups who be­lieved in the mis­use of power for per­sonal gains and ben­e­fits.

Bangladesh, once an im­pov­er­ished coun­try and called by the former U.S. Sec­re­tary of State, Henry Kissinger as “world’s bas­ket with a hole” has made strides in im­prov­ing its econ­omy but its track record in deal­ing with the men­ace of cor­rup­tion is dis­mal. Even the care­taker govern­ment (2007-8) failed to ef­fec­tively deal with cor­rup­tion and its strat­egy to marginal­ize the coun­try’s two main­stream po­lit­i­cal par­ties, Awami League and Bangladesh Na­tion­al­ist Party, as cor­rupt po­lit­i­cal en­ti­ties failed. The re­turn of “Be­gums” who were ac­cused of wide­spread cor­rup­tion while in power,

proves the fault lines in Bangladeshi so­ci­ety about tol­er­at­ing cor­rup­tion as a fait ac­com­pli.

Merely by es­tab­lish­ing com­mit­tees, com­mis­sions or task force, the virus of cor­rup­tion can­not be re­moved. With prac­ti­cal mea­sures like zero tol- er­ance for cor­rup­tion by those who are in po­si­tions and those who are not re­source­ful, one can ex­pect in the fore­see­able fu­ture some break­through for the erad­i­ca­tion of cor­rup­tion in South Asia. And vot­ers in South Asia must not elect can­di­dates hav­ing cor­rupt or

cor­rupt­ible back­ground.

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