The Cost of Chaos

If cor­rup­tion is left unchecked, South Asia is doomed to chaos, con­flict and an­ar­chy.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By S. M. Hali ‘suo moto’ The writer is a prac­tis­ing jour­nal­ist. He con­trib­utes to the print me­dia, con­ducts a TV show and pro­duces doc­u­men­taries.

Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional (TI) has re­leased its lat­est re­port ti­tled 'Fight­ing Cor­rup­tion in South Asia: Build­ing Ac­count­abil­ity'. Sadly, the re­port brings lit­tle joy to the peo­ple of Bangladesh, In­dia, the Mal­dives, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pak­istan. It finds South Asia to be the most cor­rupt re­gion in the world. Iron­i­cally, th­ese coun­tries are also among the poor­est in the world. De­spite the fact that the South Asian sub-con­ti­nent has at­tained strong economic growth over the past sev­eral years, it is the world's most cor­rupt re­gion and ram­pant cor­rup­tion is prevent­ing its peo­ple from break­ing the bar­ri­ers of poverty.

Fif­teen years ago, re­port­ing on the pervasiveness of cor­rup­tion in the re­gion, the UNDP Hu­man Devel­op­ment Re­port for South Asia (1999) out­lined four dis­tinct fea­tures of cor­rup­tion. “In South Asia: cor­rup­tion oc­curs up­stream, not down­stream; cor­rup­tion money has wings, not wheels; cor­rup­tion of­ten leads to pro­mo­tions, not prison terms; and cor­rup­tion oc­curs with mil­lions of peo­ple in poverty.” Other than a grad­ual in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion, th­ese fea­tures have hardly un­der­gone any changes.

The TI re­port, while an­a­lyz­ing how well the 70 na­tional in­sti­tu­tions of the six coun­tries have func­tioned to stop cor­rup­tion, con­cluded that in South Asian coun­tries, the gov­ern­ments and the peo­ple who want to ex­pose and in­ves­ti­gate cor­rup­tion face le­gal bar­ri­ers, po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion and ha­rass­ment that al­lows un­bri­dled bribery, se­cret deal­ings and the abuse of power to re­main unim­peded.

Bangladesh, which topped the list of TI’s most cor­rupt na­tions along with Haiti in 2005, has its po­lice, rev­enue and land de­part­ments among the most public in­sti­tu­tions. Cor­rup­tion in In­dia has reached an all-time high with rates be­ing ex­actly dou­ble of the global preva­lence. The global in­dex for the num­ber of peo­ple who have paid bribes to ac­cess public ser­vices and in­sti­tu­tions is 27 per­cent in the last twelve months. In In­dia, how­ever, the num­ber of peo­ple who did the same was 54 per­cent. The most cor­rupt in­sti­tu­tion in In­dia is its po­lit­i­cal par­ties, with a cor­rup­tion rate as high as 4.4 on a scale of 5 (1 be­ing the least cor­rupt rate and 5 be­ing the high­est). The high­est amount of bribe was col­lected by the po­lice – 62 per­cent, fol­lowed by those in­volved in reg­istry and per­mit (61 per­cent), ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions (48 per­cent) and land ser­vices (38 per­cent). In­dia's ju­di­ciary has also been found guilty of mal­prac­tices, with 36 per­cent staff in­volved in tak­ing bribes.

Anna Hazare’s mass move­ment for the Lok Pal Bill and the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party to fight cor­rup­tion de­pict the public mood. There were no sur­prises then that the In­dian vot­ers re­jected the Congress party for its cor­rupt prac­tices and ex­pressed their con­fi­dence in Modi’s ex­em­plary record as Gujarat’s chief min­is­ter since 2001. Un­der Modi, Gujarat’s 10 per­cent an­nual growth rate ex­ceeded that of China’s while In­dia’s an­nual growth rate has fallen to 5 per­cent since 2008.

TI has de­clared that the Mal­dives must em­power anti-cor­rup­tion agen­cies to in­ves­ti­gate and pros­e­cute cases in or­der to fight cor­rup­tion. It also sug­gested that the anti-cor­rup­tion bod­ies should be granted pow­ers to in­sti­gate both cor­rup­tion

in­ves­ti­ga­tions and pros­e­cu­tions on their own ini­tia­tive with­out prior gov­ern­ment ap­proval.

At present, the Mal­dives’ An­ti­Cor­rup­tion Com­mis­sion can only ini­ti­ate in­ves­ti­ga­tions. It has to for­ward cases to the pros­e­cu­tor gen­eral for any fur­ther ac­tion to be taken. The ACC it­self has raised con­cerns over a Supreme Court rul­ing in which the apex court ruled that the body does not have the au­thor­ity to pre­vent the state from en­ter­ing into ques­tion­able con­tracts. The ACC has quoted a 2012 rul­ing on a le­gal bat­tle, in­volv­ing the Depart­ment of Immigration, the ACC and a Malaysian IT firm Nexbis, that had ren­dered the or­ga­ni­za­tion pow­er­less.

Ac­cord­ing to TI, Nepal im­proved its sta­tus from 139th po­si­tion in 2012 to 116th in 2013 out of 177 coun­tries sur­veyed in the Cor­rup­tion Per­cep­tion In­dex (CPI). “Cor­rup­tion in public bod­ies that should pro­vide ba­sic ser­vices to the poor means that economic growth is only en­joyed by the few," points out the re­port. The main rea­son for un­con­trol­lable cor­rup­tion in gov­ern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions in Nepal is po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence. In­ter­est­ingly, the Nepalese chap­ter of TI is con­sid­ered the most in­ept, in­do­lent chap­ter, now in­fested with re­tired civil ser­vants. Def­i­nitely, the TI re­port on Nepal must be taken with a pinch of salt, since the same per­son has been com­mis­sioned to draft the Na­tional In­tegrity Sys­tem re­port year af­ter year.

In Sri Lanka, over 60 per­cent cit­i­zens are con­vinced that cor­rup­tion in the coun­try has in­creased over the past two years. TI finds Sri Lanka’s rank­ing in the Global CPI in 2013 to be 91 out of 177 coun­tries with a score of 37 out of 100; a slide down by three points since 2012. A score of 50 or less in­di­cate a se­ri­ous cor­rup­tion prob­lem. TI’s ob­ser­va­tions de­pict cor­rup­tion in the public sec­tor to be a cause for se­ri­ous con­cern. There are gaps in the anti-cor­rup­tion mech­a­nism while Sri Lanka’s Bribery Act of 1994 is yet to un­dergo any re­vi­sion or up­date. The cur­rent act does not in­clude pri­vate and civil so­ci­ety sec­tors and does not con­form to the pro­vi­sions of the United Na­tions Con­ven­tion Against Cor­rup­tion (UNAC).

In Pak­istan, cor­rup­tion is per­va­sive in all strata of so­ci­ety with the gov­ern­ment, po­lice and public ser­vice in­sti­tu­tions lead­ing in ac­cept­ing bribes and graft. Ac­cord­ing to TI’s lat­est re­port, in CPI, Pak­istan scored 127 out of 175, a slight im­prove­ment from 139 out of 174 in 2012. The pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment led by the PPP (2008-2013) is re­garded as the most cor­rupt in Pak­istan’s his­tory. The present in­cum­bent in the cor­ri­dors of power, the PML-N, does not have any cor­rup­tion cases reg­is­tered against it so far.

The TI’s re­port has iden­ti­fied three im­por­tant ar­eas to ef­fec­tively over­come cor­rup­tion within Pak­istan, in par­tic­u­lar with its fo­cus on the role of the ju­di­ciary, the need for bet­ter anti-cor­rup­tion mea­sures and greater free­dom of in­for­ma­tion. TI’s ob­ser­va­tions re­gard­ing the ju­di­ciary in Pak­istan, his­tor­i­cally sub­jected to nepo­tism, po­lit­i­cal pa­tron­age and fa­voritism, are perti­nent but the re­port also com­mends the ju­di­ciary for tak­ing up thou­sands of hu­man rights cases and for declar­ing the con­tro­ver­sial Na­tional Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Or­di­nance (NRO) un­con­sti­tu­tional for its at­tempt to grant amnesty to al­legedly cor­rupt politi­cians and bu­reau­crats.

A full dis­cus­sion on Pak­istani or­ga­ni­za­tions lead­ing in cor­rup­tion is be­yond the scope of this ar­ti­cle but some prom­i­nent cases are the Rental Power Pro­jects, mis­man­age­ment of state-owned in­sti­tu­tions like PIA and Pak­istan Rail­ways, the Hajj cor­rup­tion case, the NATO con­tainer case, the Pak­istan Steel Mills scam, the Na­tional In­sur­ance Com­pany Limited scan­dal, the Ephedrine quota case and the me­di­a­gate scan­dal, just to name a few.

If cor­rup­tion is left unchecked, South Asia is doomed to chaos, con­flict and an­ar­chy. TI it­self has rec­om­mended the use of the plat­form of SAARC to ad­dress cor­rup­tion. Un­for­tu­nately, apart from one oc­ca­sion, all SAARC sum­mits have failed to ad­dress the is­sue thus it may not be the right plat­form to re­solve the se­ri­ous prob­lem of cor­rup­tion.

A leaf may be taken from China’s book, where Pres­i­dent Xi-Jin­ping’s anti-cor­rup­tion pol­icy of tam­ing both ‘meat-eat­ing tigers’ and ‘low-level flies’ im­plies pur­su­ing a top-down anti-cor­rup­tion agenda, rather than a bot­toms-up strat­egy which bears no re­sult with­out any big fish be­ing net­ted. To rid South Asia of cor­rup­tion is akin to the Her­culean task of clean­ing the Augean Sta­bles but it has to be un­der­taken.

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