//Graft and economic growth are incompatible

Graft and economic growth are incompatible

Existing anti-corruption institutions lack teeth and do not have officers with impeccable integrity, says  SK AGARWAL, the  vice-chairman, Transparency International-India.

Financial Express, October 25, 2006

India is perceived to be among the world’s most corrupt nations. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2005, India’s score was only 2.8 out of 10, and was positioned 88th out of 159 countries. India also fared poorly in the recently released Bribe Payers Index (BPI) 2006. On a scale of 0 to 10—‘rampant corruption’ to ‘no corruption’—India scored the lowest, 4.62, among the nations included in the survey.

Although the two indices consider different aspects of corruption, countries that rank low on the CPI fare badly on the BPI as well. According to the India Corruption Study 2005, an overwhelming majority attributed corruption to:

* The absence of transparency and accountability in governance.

* The lack of honest officials and acceptance of bribes as a way of life.

* The lack of corruption reporting mechanisms and weaknesses in the grievance redressal machinery.

* Inadequate training of government officials.

* Ineffective police and judiciary due to the lack of accountability.

* Criminalisation of politics.

Besides, the existing anti-corruption institutions are not effective as they are under the control of politicians; they lack real teeth; and do not have enough officers with impeccable integrity.

Corruption needs to be dealt with on three fronts: firstly, petty corruption affecting the common man in dealings with public services; secondly, corruption in procurement and construction deals; and thirdly, the involvement of politicians in corruption.

Combating the first type, petty corruption, requires the introduction of transparency and accountability in governance and deterrent punitive action against erring officials. Transparency and accountability in governance can also be introduced through effective implementation of following measures:-

Citizens’ Charters: They promise certain standards on the basis of “Where to go; how to proceed”. Most of the currently available citizens’ charters have been formulated without consulting the concerned service seekers and do not have a penalty clause in case the promised standards of services are not adhered to. Further, there is poor awareness about their existence even among service providers themselves.

Right to Information: Though it is considered an exemplary initiative, people in general are dissatisfied with the functioning of the Central Information Commission (CIC), primarily due to the non-adherence to the principles of natural justice and failure to impose penalties. This has encouraged the bureaucracy to ignore RTI requests.

e-Governance: Corruption takes place the moment a service seeker faces the service provider. This measure avoids such a situation. Though the government is introducing e-governance in various services, the main problem is limited access to the Internet and awareness about measures taken so far. Besides, service providers are required to change their mindset, and make this service more user friendly.

Sincere efforts will be required on all these fronts to improve governance and create nationwide awareness about them. Besides, in order to tackle the issue of petty corruption in an effective manner, there is a need to clean the system by:

* Introducing transparency and accountability in governance

* Impounding illegally acquired assets.

* Recognising and rewarding skilled, efficient and honest officials.

* Removing the protection given to tainted government officials under Article 311.

* Removing weaknesses in the grievance redressal machinery, and providing adequate protection to whistle-blowers.

* Training government officials adequately.

* Disposing corruption cases quickly.

* Policing corruption effectively and beefing up the judiciary.

Besides, sincere efforts are required to give adequate publicity and create awareness about all these methods to improve governance. In addition, strong domestic anti-corruption measures are required to be translated consistently into responsible business practices in India. The World Bank and the regional development institutions can help by enforcing debarment programmes that block crooked companies from profiting from development funds, while the poor are left out of the picture. Moreover, corruption in procurement and construction deals can be dealt with by adopting Integrity Pacts (IP).

Though the defence ministry has mentioned IPs in its procurement policies for 2005-06 and 2006-07, it has yet to implement it. Similar arrangements are being considered by many PSUs.

However, it is felt that in India, strong domestic anti-corruption measures, including the adoption of IPs, are required to be made compulsory to curb scams.

These measures include a clear-cut policy on middlemen and the methodology to regulate their role, ratification of the UN Convention Against Corruption, commitment to the OECD Convention Against Bribery and enactment of an Act like US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977.

As far as political corruption is concerned, some well thought out measures can bring it down substantially. Some of the important steps that may be undertaken by the government include the enactment of a comprehensive Lok Pal legislation; barring criminal elements from politics as recommended by the Election Commission of India; impounding illegally acquired assets as recommended by the Law Commission.

Fighting corruption is not an end in itself. It is a critical path to providing opportunity; securing health, education, sanitation and basic services for the poor; and strengthening prospects for economic growth. Anti-corruption programmes need to be integrated fully into development strategies. They must involve the building of partnerships between civil society, the private sector, the legislative and executive branches of government. There is an apprehension that without effective anti-corruption strategies in the coming years, the Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of those living in absolute poverty will not be achieved.