Let's challenge politicians' 'Right to Corruption'

Last Updated: Mon, Aug 22, 2011 08:33 hrs

For years, corruption in India was a given. You had no choice but to accept it. There was absolutely no way out of it. It was virtually impossible for anyone to change India's corrupt way of life.

There was no hope.

Thanks to the recent chain of events however, India has taken a huge step towards ridding itself of corruption.

Going from "No Hope" to "Hope"...

Going from "Not Believing to "Believing"...

The next step is obviously introducing a strong Lokpal Bill. You know the people are on the right track in agitating so strongly for all the politicians of the land are running scared.

The Government is behaving as if an unjust war has been declared on it. Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi are silent. Most Opposition parties are either vacillating or paying mere lip service. They are concentrating more on Anna Hazare's arrest rather than the actual issue at hand, ridding this country of corruption.

In short, this is the first time that the unofficial widespread "Right to Corruption" has been challenged in this land in such a strong manner.

Changing the system...

While a new strong bill will be a great beginning, it alone will not be enough to end the corruption committed by millions and millions of common citizens, government officials, small business traders and lesser politicians year on year. There are thousands of mini-scams that rage on in every district of India. Can we even think of handling all of them effectively?

Thanks largely to a system that has been created from 1947 to 2011, even if you or me or Anna Hazare or Baba Ramdev became Prime Minister of India, we would be able to achieve zilch, without making widespread changes in the system.

In fact, right now we have one of the most honest and able Prime Ministers in Manmohan Singh. He has all the qualifications for the job. He's from both Cambridge and Oxford. He's a doctorate. He's worked with the UN.

He's been RBI Governor. Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission. Architect of Liberalization. Who could ask for more?

A scary thought: What if all this muck is coming to light only because Manmohan is a clean man and refuses to play ball with the corrupt high and mighty?

This is the right time for a debate not only on Lokpal, but on how we can completely overhaul of the system.

There should be a debate on what more radical steps can be taken up.

Some ideas from this writer...

1. Low Salaries = Sure Corruption.

One thing that amazes me is how any Indian can expect politicians to be clean with such low salaries. In the last 20 years, salaries have hit the roof in the Indian private sector. In terms of pure white money, many managers get paid more than the Prime Minister of India.

Yet Indians oppose any salary hikes to the netas and assume that corruption will go irrespective of high salaries. The result is huge fringe benefits, re-imbursements and a hand in many shady deals.

What stops you or me from being a politician? Apart from the difficulty of getting elected would be the difficulty in sustaining a lifestyle on such a meager salary.

The US President gets $400, 000 a year. While that compares nothing to the myriad millionaires of America, it ensures that the President will not be corrupt.

Countries which pay their politicians well have lesser cases of corruption. If you pay nuts you will get monkeys. If you pay nuts to the people who run the country, then you will get a monkey country.

The most obvious example is another Asian country like us called Singapore. They also had corruption problems like us. They hiked the salaries astronomically and imposed stringent anti-corruption laws. The results are there for everyone to see.

Think over it for a moment. If you hike substantially the salaries of all our legislators, then the extra cost will still be a fraction of the money lost in scams. But you will also create a small pool of honest legislators, whose numbers may increase till they become a powerful lobby.

Running the country is like any other job, like running a company. This is the biggest way of professionalizing the political system.

2. Parties Black Funding = Unofficial Stamp on Black Economy.

Every party in order to come to power has to spend truckloads of black money. Every politician has to spend a huge amount of undeclared wealth to get elected.

In fact whenever any legislator takes the oath of office, he swears that he has only spent a certain amount of money in election campaigning. He, his party, the media and the people all know that this is wrong and he has spent much more money than he has declared.

So in effect the oath is false. All our politicians come to power on the basis of black money campaigning and false oaths. So do you expect them to become clean the moment they sit in their chairs? It's just not possible.

Here also we have to look at most of the countries of the world. Parties have to be run like organizations. They need balance sheets, CAs, able administrators and they have to pay taxes.

In England many toppers from Oxford and Cambridge choose politics as a career. That's because they can join a political party and get an official salary.

If the Indian political parties were made to run like corporations and hire people on their rolls via things like appointment letters, then it would go a long way in professionalizing the political parties.

3. Recognizing High Value Scams.

Once in India a bus conductor got jailed for carrying more money in his pocket than he should have while on bus duty. At the other end of the spectrum is Hasan Ali, who has thousands of crores of IT evasion and it takes all the authorities ages to just arrest and question him.

The law has to recognize the difference between a One Rupee theft and a Rs 1 crore theft. For example, any scam that is estimated to be of above Rs 100 crore should go straight to the Supreme Court. The death penalty should also be applied in such cases. That will be the only deterrent.

Once such a scam takes place, then the black money paper trail has to be checked from beginning to end and money recovered from all the friends, families and associates of the accused.

All the focus today is on arrest and proof of guilt. No action on the recovery of the lost money.

4. More Privatization + More Corporate Involvement.

Years back I visited a shopping market in a small town that had a private cement road. When I congratulated the shopkeepers for such a feat, I was told that the local politicians paid them a visit and asked them for their cut, since they were denied the right to make money on umpteen tar roads they would have otherwise built over the years!

That's the state of the country.

Today corporates are super rich in India. Everyone talks of corporate social responsibility. What stops them from investing in government infrastructure around their office premises? That will help the company's employees, the people who live there and also help government cash management.

They can also be encouraged to sponsor more and more public infrastructure projects.

5. Suspension = Joke.

How many times have you heard of an official being suspended over corruption charges? And what happens later on? The official quietly gets re-instated back to service when all the noise dies down. Sometimes he’s not even transferred and gets to sit on the very same chair!

Till the system allows the direct dismissal of government employees, nothing much can be achieved.

Officials have been dilly-dallying in the Hasan Ali case. How can you think of suspending erring employees in a Rs 70,000 crore tax evasion case? They have to be dismissed.

A lot of inconsistencies have been found in the way the 2G spectrum was handled resulting in the great scam. How can you think of suspending guilty employees in a Rs 1.76 lakh crore scam? They have to be dismissed.

6. The Concept of a Bribe Holiday.

Legalizing bribes is probably the most controversial thing of all. But hear me out.

If in a system, there is no (or relatively less) corruption and you legalize bribe giving, then you will encourage bribes and in turn spread more and more corruption.

But what if the "Bribe Factor" is already 100%? That applies in many offices in India where 100/100 people have to pay bribes to get a particular work done. Then there is no way you can increase the percentage of bribe giving.

It will in fact make it easier for an honest person to pay a bribe to get his work done and then complain to the authorities that he had no choice but to pay a bribe and he wants action against the erring official.

Let there be no fooling of ourselves. In India in many departments, the Bribe Factor is 100%. In such a case a Bribe Holiday of five years can be given to certain departments where the common citizens should be encouraged to expose the corrupt officials.

7. Swiss Banks Have to be Squeezed.

Swiss Banks are anonymous. Swiss Banks are full of black money. We can't do anything about it. Why do we accept all this at face value?

Many years back the Indian government launched what was then a futile battle against Apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid finally ended in South Africa and India got huge credit.

Why is the government not declaring the list of people who have Swiss bank accounts? Why is it not taking a tough stand against Swiss Banks? The US government regularly applies pressure on Swiss Bank accounts to get information about offenders against them. The Indian government should follow suit.

Of course all this will require legislation. The pressure tactics being employed for the Lokpal Bill is justifiable. In fact in the event of its unlikely success, pressure should be applied for many more such bills.

While the reader may find some of these ideas either impractical or unworkable, the truth is that India desperately needs out of box solutions to tackle the well-trenched malignant disease that is corruption.

The current people's agitation around Anna Hazare has shown that we can really bring about a change it we want to.


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The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/