Anti-Corruption Culture A Far Cry?
For me at least, having my origin from India, it was neither surprising nor a big deal for the governor to allot the Senate seat to the biggest bidder. In India, it has been a norm for all political parties to nominate candidates on the basis of their contribution to the party funds, the biggest bidder mostly preferred over all other aspirants, including the most deserving, for the ticket. And it is no recent development. Way back in 1960s, my classmate in Law Faculty of Delhi University and my closest friend shocked me with the news that he had been nominated by the biggest political party to be their candidate for the ensuing elections from his home constituency. He had never ever worked for the party, nor for any social cause that could have been considered while selecting him. The only factor that favored him was his newly acquired financial status. He had been recently given huge compensation for his farmlands which the government had acquired for developing residential areas for the increasing population of Delhi. He could easily afford to pay the highest amount for the party ticket.
The seeds of political corruption are planted as soon as the political leaders realise that power and wealth could be equals. Political corruption often begins with favoritism towards those with wealth and influence. Being placed in a position of significant political power can be overwhelming, and the temptation to bend or break rules for a perceived 'greater good' is always present. There are experienced politicians for whom political corruption is a natural state of being. History is filled with examples of corrupt public officials.
Public contracting is one way in which public policy is implemented, and it is an enormous and lucrative area of business. Most of these contracts are meant to buy or produce goods or services that should benefit citizens directly, like the construction of a road or a sewage system. Contracts are sources of power to those who give them out, and targets of ambition for those who may receive them, making public contracts particularly prone to abuse at the expense of public need. The risk of corruption in public contracting exists even before the contracting process has started, perhaps even at the moment when public budgets are allocated, and it perpetuates beyond the awarding of a contract to its implementation.
No government, state or central, that has governed the country has ever tried to address the deep-rooted problems of policing, and thereby the law and order in India. Politicians use the police for their short-term political interests. The police reciprocate their affinity to the people in power by letting them to be exploited. The public mistrust in the local police is not the result of an overnight incident. It is the crystallization of years of experience. A law enforcement agency which lacks the trust of the people cannot maintain law and order. Today in India, the police serve the rich and the powerful. To expect an ordinary Indian to approach the local police with information is an impossibility in the country. An example is the statements made by the parents who lost their children in the infamous 2006 December Noida serial murder case. The case began after the recovery of the skeletal remains of missing children in Nithari village in the outskirts of Noida city close to New Delhi.
The investigation of the case reveled that when the parents approached the Noida police to lodge complaints about their missing children, the police refused to register their complaints. When the parents persisted, they were chased away by the police with the threat that if they returned false cases would be registered against them accusing them of selling their children. The parents went away from the police station, since they were poor and could not afford to pay bribes to the police to get their complaints registered. An administration that expects the ordinary public to freely approach the local police with information is consciously ignoring the reality.
You may say, "What can we do about it? These forces are too rich, too powerful, too entrenched to be defeated." Maybe. Fighting corruption is not easy. Anti-corruption campaigns are more often limited to rhetoric, and are only rarely sustained. Moreover, political leaders in some countries are either unable or unwilling to pursue bold reforms because of the political risks. Experience has invariably demonstrated that an effective campaign to combat corruption presupposes the sway of a particular culture in society, namely one exalting transparency, integrity, and accountability. The problem is that this kind of culture is still largely deficient or lacking. Rather, the dominant ambience is one of laxity, condonance, and tolerance vis-a-vis acts of corruption. The outcome is reflected in the absence of public accountability for undue acts or deeds. The public, via the press, through polls, or by any other means, does not censure or condemn misdeeds, infractions, or misbehavior characterized as corruption. Only too often an opulent individual is revered for his wealth regardless of how he had made it.
An anti-corruption culture would only develop and be enriched over time with vigilant and determined action in both the private and public domains. The dawn of an anti-corruption culture, however, will remain a far cry as long as the structure of authority in a country is not amenable to effective accountability.