Bringing Behavioural Changes to Combat Corruption

by August 23, 2019 0 comments

Bringing Behavioural Changes to Combat Corruption
While this issue is huge, it is not insurmountable. We can at least start adopting a different approach to tackle it by bringing about behavioural change

India’s reputation as one of the world’s most corrupt bureaucracies is well-documented. On the Corruption Perceptions Index, India ranks 78th and this outlook is with merit and cause. What is surprising, however, is that the civil services examination and the post of a civil servant are still one that attracts great attention and fanfare. Any aspirant, who “cracks” the examination, is treated with great respect. This is, perhaps, why lakhs of young aspirants spend days together, working towards the goal of being part of the Indian bureaucracy.

A large number of these students are from prestigious institutes like the Indian Institute of Technology and various National Law Schools, among others. As a former civil servant, I find that this desire to join the civil services, surprisingly, has not dwindled. A few pessimists would say that these young aspirants join the bureaucracy to extract their pound of flesh. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “A man who has never gone to school may steal a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad.” But levity aside, I think this is unduly harsh and frankly not true. In fact, as is true in most avenues of life, corruption in the Indian bureaucracy, too, follows the Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) that is 80 per cent of all corruption in the bureaucracy is carried out by 20 per cent of the people. The problem is to identify and punish this 20 per cent, which is bringing the entire country and the service immense shame and disrepute.

Corruption has no rigid definition, but the most common academic connotation, which defines it as “the misuse of public office for private gain”, seems to be the most appropriate. While most times the media appears to cover the “headline” scandals and/or instances of corruption — ie, the kind of scams that attract most eyeballs — rarely do we realise just what the magnitude of everyday corruption is in our country. Transparency International estimates that Indians end up paying bribes of over Rs 21, 000 crore (approx $3.5 billion) every year to access Government services. Therefore, there are different types of corruption, which differ from service to service. MR Venkatesh, a Chartered Accountant-turned lawyer, said it best in these lines, “IAS officers are after the rich people, IRS officers are after the middle class and IPS officers are after the poor. This is the new varnashrama created by the bureaucracy.” While this looks like oversimplifying a complex issue, the crux of the problem does ring true.

So what are the causes of corruption? There are a number of people who have endlessly theorised on the reasons why the Indian bureaucracy suffers from corruption. One such reason is the country’s complex legal and regulatory framework. India remains an extremely difficult place to do business. To set up or operate any business here, an entrepreneur or businessman has to jump through various hoops and then hope to gain favour from the relevant bureaucrat even before starting his/her business. It is, therefore, no coincidence that India’s low ranking on the Corruption Perceptions Index corresponds with its low position in the World Bank’s indicators for doing business.

Just to give an idea about the ease of doing business in India, according to a World Bank survey, the act of obtaining a single construction permit in India involves 27 discrete procedures, takes 162 days and costs 46 per cent of the total outlay to a construction firm building a warehouse. The keyword here is “discretion.” The minute it is brought in, the corrupt official gets an opportunity to make a quick buck.

Another reason as to why corruption persists in our country is the lack of respect towards entrepreneurs and businessmen. While we often get to hear praises about a Narayana Murthy or an Azim Premji, these examples are an exception rather than the norm. This because we, as Indians, have been encouraged to treat a business as an entity that makes money by stealing someone else’s buck. This is why any new business is looked at with suspicion first and then with admiration. While the conduct of some Indian promoters does indicate that there is some truth to this perception, our lack of openness and admiration towards entrepreneurs does the country more harm than good.

So what can be done? We need to change our attitudes towards businesses. There is no denying the fact that there should be a strict framework within which all businesses flourish. However, a strict framework does not necessarily mean that any new business ought to be treated with contempt. For example, it is important that every business operates within the realm of the law and obtains all relevant approvals. However, bureaucrats must not be given any reason to place more hurdles in helping them establish a business than those that are already present. It is evident that this Government needs cash and, therefore, is on a tax collection spree. However, in the long-run, it is impossible for any Government to collect taxes if it continues to act in a targetted and adversarial manner. It is, therefore, crucial for the Government to intimate and drive home the point to bureaucrats that their role is to facilitate the lives of honest citizens rather than acting as impediments.

Another way to mitigate the effects of corruption is to improve information dissemination and use technology. While the former is crucial and must be encouraged with zeal, the latter must be approached with greater care in a country like India where technology is really only to the benefit of a few rather than most. The best example of how this can provide benefit is the recent change in the law which allows drivers to carry scanned copies of their driving licences and RCs. Most people, however, have not heard about this change in the rules.

I have personally heard of many stories of traffic cops taking bribes from unassuming drivers merely because they tell them that they are required to carry physical copies of their documents. In such a case if people are informed about the change in rules and technology is used meaningfully, instances of bribes will automatically be reduced.

While the problem of corruption is huge, we can at least start adopting a different approach to tackle it. Bringing about a change in mindset will be of great help. This should be coupled with other innovative solutions. With these changes, I think, we will find that the problem of corruption is not as insurmountable as we think.

(The writer is former president of Jharkhand Pradesh Congress Committee)

Writer: Ajoy Kumar

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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