Friday, 21 October 2011

The many facets of corruption | I PAID A BRIBE

Corruption is, and always has been a multifaceted and age-old global malaise permeating almost every aspect of a citizens’ contact with officialdom.  There are no dearth of theories and explanations on what breeds corruption -- sub standard salaries in the lower echelons of government servants, a plethora of complex rules regulations and controls, greed, impatience with time consuming processes to secure what is legitimately due, desire to gain undue and illegal advantage, overall decline in ethical and moral values in public and private life and, above all, criminalisation of politics/corruption of politics/politics of corruption- one can go on adding to the list.

The massive upsurge seen in recent weeks is an expression of the seething anger and disenchantment of common citizens with the powers that be who have not only failed to tackle the menace but are also often perceived as its fountain head. It is a clear signal that positive and time-bound action to arrest the growing menace of corruption can no longer be put on hold.

Lokpal: Implications and prospects

While the Lokpal Bill will certainly attract extensive debate both inside the Parliament and outside, the most significant aspects that need to be scrutinised during the debate are:-

  • Multiplicity of agencies like the CBI with responsibilities similar to the Lokpal.
  • The status of the various agencies including the Lokayukths and state government departments in relation to the Lokpal.
  • Enforcement of stringent time frames for action by various agencies including the Lokpal itself.
  • The enormous size of the intended Lokpal organisation, given its proposed wide ranging   responsibilities, and powers of investigation, prosecution and punitive action.
  • The cost of setting up and maintaining this huge organisation.
  • Selection of the right kind of staff at all levels.
  • Ensuring the highest standards and norms of functioning at all levels of the organisation.

When the Lokpal finally comes into being, its role will be primarily directed towards the detection of corruption when or after it takes place and prosecution / punishment of the culprits. While it will certainly act as a deterrent, it is naive to expect corruption in all forms to disappear overnight. Besides and beyond the Lokpal, considerable effort is required to reduce the scope for corrupt practices at source by bringing about a citizen centric approach in all public spheres.

Simplification of rules and procedures

The general public depends exclusively and extensively on public authorities, government departments and local civic administrations for a whole range of services. Rampant corruption rules the administration of the services and more so in areas like tax regimes, awarding of contracts and recruitment for jobs. The rules, regulations and procedures governing all these areas are numerous and complex and constitute an open invitation for corruption.

The first step of sanitisation is to simplify the rules and procedures, eliminate superfluous and redundant ones, reduce the number of stages in processing any transaction and lay down clear and simple instructions on the requirement to be fulfilled by the parties to the transaction.   Reasonable time frames should be fixed for each and every transaction and made known to all concerned.

Transaction and processing fees may be fixed rationally and prominently notified. Provision may be made for fast tracking on payment of prescribed additional fees wherever possible.

E-governance and automation

The expertise available in the country in information, communication and allied technologies should be exploited to set up and expand, country-wide, the application of technology to all fields of interaction between official machinery and the general public. Precedents already exist in areas like filing of income tax returns, payment of property tax, passport services and railway reservations. As automation is comparatively free from manipulation, the avenues for corruption will be narrowed. The cost of investment towards this effort will be mostly offset by savings in man hours.

An extensive network of kiosks and internet parlours should be set up where, on payment of prescribed and notified fees, the uninitiated and those with no direct access to the required facilities can get their transactions handled on the internet on their behalf

Reorganisation of offices

Personal visits to various offices will be unavoidable even with increasing implementation of e-governance. Barring a few exceptions like the passport offices in metros, the atmosphere in most offices is forbidding, confusing, gloomy and unfriendly to the customer. In many offices it would appear that the atmosphere is created by design to facilitate overt and covert practice of corruption, even though cleansing of the vitiated atmosphere in all places of work is long overdue.

The layout in offices should be reorganised to provide easy, effective and user-friendly interface between the general public and dealing officials. Information on visiting hours, details of dealing officials, requirements if any to be fulfilled by the customer, expected time frames for the different stages of processing and the fees prescribed if any should be prominently displayed at the entrance lobby. A help desk should be set up at the entrance lobby to guide visiting customers. If necessary, the services of public spirited volunteers from the locality may be sought to man and operate the help desk.

The concept of a single window transaction should be put in place so that the customer is not required to run from pillar to post to get the process moving. In many offices this could be done through organisational restructuring, physical proximity of related activities, automation, networking and front office empowerment.  

Touts, middlemen and unauthorised agents should be barred from the offices and their vicinity. The general public should be repeatedly warned against approaching or being approached by such undesirable elements and reassured that following the laid down procedures and guidelines is the best guarantee for getting the job done.

Through training sessions, motivational talks, periodic inspections and acting on feedback from customers, a sense of discipline and a positive, friendly attitude towards customers should be instilled among officials.  A scheme should be devised in each office to recognise and reward good public relations and take corrective action where necessary.

Role of citizens groups and associations

Many groups and associations like the Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs and professional bodies are well established with sound organisational structure, resources and social and political clout.  Their objectives cover a wide spectrum generally falling under one or more of four groups, namely recreation and fellowship, social service, safeguarding sectoral interests as well as the welfare and advancement of professional standards. Their membership is representative of both the strengths and weaknesses of civil society and is drawn from all sections of society from the modest middle class to the affluent, privileged and highly influential upper echelons.

As citizens, members of various groups and associations are also stakeholders in the fight against corruption though some of them may be individually guilty of corrupt practices. Their collective organisational strength and resources should be tapped towards tackling corruption. Without prejudice to pursuing their specific objectives, all associations should collectively take a pledge not to encourage corruption in any form. They should exchange their experiences, identify the centres of corruption and bring pressure on such centres to reform.

Education and training

Awareness of the responsibility of every citizen in eradicating corruption should be drilled into the younger generation at the grassroot level and right through the system of education.  Parents at home and teachers in schools should themselves set an example of adherence to moral and ethical values.

In every agency or establishment it is the leadership that sets the tone for probity in public life.  Training establishments like the academies for IAS, IPS and central civil and military services and numerous in service training programmes should include in their curriculum open discussions on the subject of corruption and the importance of personal example.

Through seminars, public meetings, pamphlets, TV and radio programmes and the print media, the general public should be regularly educated about their rights and responsibilities and encouraged to resist the evil of corruption and expose it whenever it is encountered.

There was a time when idealism and ideological beliefs prevailed in political careers but it has not been so for many decades now. Today, political parties of all shades and hues are looked upon as corrupt and power hungry and have lost all credibility. It is in their interest that they take steps to arrest this trend by training and guiding their cadres towards presenting to the general public a clean image of themselves and their parties

Feasibility of measures beyond and besides the Lokpal

The measures suggested do not need any legal or legislative sanction. There is practically no prohibitive financial implication. All that is required is a nucleus of motivated and innovative managers and administrators assuming responsibility for policy making and planning in every department and agency of public authority. 

The last word:

The Lokpal, if and when set up, is by itself not the be all and end all for eradicating the evil of corruption in all walks of life. It is incumbent on the government machinery and political parties to take note of the public mood and make a serious effort to augment the existing / proposed investigative, detective and punitive measures with preventive measures. Non-government organisations and all sections of society should also play their part in sustaining the momentum of the anti-corruption movement.

Despite all the negative and adverse characteristics of our nation, substantial progress has been made in many fields and India does shine to a certain extent. Success in controlling the evil of corruption will only make it shine brighter and take its rightful place in the comity of nations.

Air Vice Marshal(Retd) S Krishnaswamy, AVSM

Air Vice Marshal(Retd) S Krishnaswamy, AVSM, is a  senior officer who was posted at Air HQ for over 10 years. He has had extensive interaction with official machinery at all levels and has been a witness to the prevalence of corruption among high ranking officers. After retirement from the Air Force, he worked for eight years as Vice President of an all India company and was exposed to corrupt officialdom all over again.

The views of the writer are personal and does not assume liability for them.


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