Corruption in Public life is possibly as old as the Society. That Officials & Ministers have acted in an immoral & illegal manner for personal financial gains while dealing on matters apportioned to them, is recorded in books as old as even 2500yrs old.
Anyone, who has gone through the treatise of Kautilya’s Arthashastra can tell you that even though the treatise may have been proposed in 321BC or so, “corruption” has found mentioned even there.
In other words, as long as there are liars, thieves, murderers and womanizers in the society, it is a fool’s thinking to presume that there can be Zero Corruption in the Society. Pragmatic outlook is important here, and what looks more realistic is that even though we can never have the utopian state of Zero Corruption, we can certainly bring it down through checks & balances in place, through an alert vigilance and in the long-term, through observation of higher moral values like abstinence from telling lies, stealing, killing or sexual misconduct.
The Moral Dilemma
May be its because of Kaliyug, or may be due to the choice of humans in our own generation, we face a strange Moral Dilemma. We face a situation where there is a strong resistance by prominent sections of the society to Moral Values.
Moral values are almost banned from being discussed or taught. Any reference to moral values to an offender, is referred to as “moral policing” and some of our friends who have exclusively taken charge of what business must go on in this 21st Century, condemn “moral policing” with the full force of “secularism” and being in “21st Century”. Morality according to them is archaic, ancient & outdated.
It may be difficult to prove statistically, but I would guess a vast majority of these incharges of the 21st Century have little idea about what Morality Constitutes. But for any serious student of spirituality, what constitutes moral conduct, may not be difficult to understand. For the benefit of those in-charge of 21st Century, here are those five precepts that are considered moral conduct:
1. Abstaining from telling Lies
2. Abstaining from Stealing
3. Abstaining from violence & killing
4. Abstaining from Sexual Misconduct
5. Abstaining from Intoxicants
I should admit that the largest resistance faced from in-charges of the 21st Century is on the Moral Precept no. 4 – Abstaining from Sexual Misconduct. But they have created a conflicting situation by strongly resisting anything that has even remotely related to the larger subject of morality.
Now, the conflict is, that in the same vein as they denounce moral policing, they crib about frauds, thieves, murderers and rapists.
You can understand the conflict here.
Observation of morality also requires training. Merely knowing what morality means and why it is good for our individual as well as collective social existence is not enough. And in a society, where a mere mention of morality is discouraged, the endeavors to train people in observation of moral precepts cannot even be considered.
So, a society that is not encouraged to observe moral precepts, and is discouraged from even its mention, is bound to have a severe downfall and at its worst point could face severe breakdown of its social structure, going right up to governance.
As a society, we have to be very clear, if we desire to enjoy the fruit of Alphonso Mango, we should sow the seed of Alphonso Mango. When such a tree will grow big enough to bear fruits, the society will get Alphonso.
If the Society is aiming to enjoy Alphonso Mango, but sows the seeds of Bitter Gourd, disallows sowing seeds of Alphonoso Mango, then the plant will only bear the fruit of Bitter Gourd. This is the law of nature and whether you were in the 6th Century BC or you are in 21st Century AD, the results are not going to be any different.
So, if Moral Discussions are discouraged, training to observe moral precepts is not given, then the fruit such a society will bear is going to be of Immorality. An immoral society will abound in Fraud, Stealing, Murders & Sexual Misconduct. Corruption is totally a part of that, aided and abetted by absence of all four, and actually all five, moral precepts.
This will be the toughest challenge for the Society. If overcome, India could enjoy a society with very highly controlled amount of Corruption.
However, since this debate is not expected to conclude today/tomorrow, lets focus on what other short-term, consistent measures, out Governments should observe to bring this menace under control.
But before we do just that, let us consider the various forms in which we face the corruption today.
Faces of Corruption
Corruption has been faced primarily in two forms.
1. By common man
- Over day-to-day administrative issues on things expected to be delivered by the Govt to the Citizens by making the process long drawn, time consuming and cumbersome.
- Through over exaggerated fear of Law, for e.g. Traffic Constables catching drivers on the road and quoting sections of Laws which the drivers hardly understand and prefer to make a payment to avoid legal troubles.
2. By Businessmen
- Through incorporation of impractical policies, which cannot make any real business sense, and sometimes by stalling new policies, even after going public about it, creating a strategic dilemma for businesspersons, or through half-hearted implementation of even those impractical policies by not completing certain amount of ground work
- Red Tape – Time is money for businesspersons and anything implementation of policy or any clearance/approval that doesn’t happen in a time-bound manner, leads to undue losses to businesspersons.
Citizens are tired of both kinds of Corruption, i.e. the one at Common Man’s level as well as the one at Businessperson’s level.
Both eat at the Taxpayers’ money. The one faced by Common Man hurts more pockets, numerically. But the one hurting businesspersons hits hugely in terms of its magnitude, in terms of money.
In both cases, either there is abuse of defective policy or there is violation of the procedure to be observed for implementation of the policy.
What we have discussed here, may not cover exhaustively, the various ways in which corruption happens, but I am confident that this covers a large majority of corruption.
Another disease, that cannot be kept outside the subject of Corruption is Black-Money. Black-Money, that is money that is outside the taxation system of the Government, born usually out of Corruption, is parked in places where the Indian Govt agencies may not have any reach. Swiss Banks offered such havens and today the common man is hugely incensed by the presence of untold amounts of money in such Tax Havens.
Precautionary Measures vs. Post Mortem Measures
No, I am not talking about Lokpal. As a matter of fact, I think Lokpal is a Post Mortem mechanism. For this mechanism, we already have two agencies and one comprehensive law in place. The third one that of Lokpal has also be put into place under popular pressure, by the Political Class of the country, but I doubt the dent it will make to corruption in the long run.
The problem with such post mortem based mechanisms is that the case has to be proved in the court of law and there 1001 ways to fail in that objective. This problem is over and above the problem of all such institutions deriving hugely, and ultimately, from the man on the top of such organizations.
India already has CVC & anti-Corruption Bureaus, what happens when an honest, upright officer reaches the top and what happens when an already corrupt person occupies the chair at the top is known to all.
In the Court of Law, the entire matter is fought & decided on the basis of charges framed. The entire game is about the chargesheet. If the charges framed against a person by the prosecution are weak, whatever you do, the case will be won by such an accused person.
Take for example, the Robert Vadra land scam case in Gurgaon. Dr. Ashok Khemka raised the matter and made allegation/charges against Robert Vadra. A bunch of people claiming to be fighting corruption and who have formed a Political Party that will fight corruption in Administration without offering to provide Good Governance, when in power, backed these charges made by Dr. Ashok Khemka. The party in question here is Aam Aadmi Party, who’s leader Arvind Kejriwal claims to be fighting corruption without ever pursuing a single case of corruption in the Court of Law and securing a conviction of such corrupt people.
Leave that aside for the time being, but charges against Vadra were not only weak but also ridiculous. Obtaining of a Commercial License by Vadra in that case was shown as such a big crime that the entire case against him was built around that. All developers who seek a Commercial Land Use License, however, get one. Robert Vadra got the LoI for License in 18 days, other Developers get it in 5-6 months. So, the case if any, on this basis, is that if Vadra can get LoI in 18 Days so should other Developers.
The real case, as I read, against Vadra could be the purchase price for 3.5 acre land in Shikohpur and the original owner of the company from whom Vadra bought land, i.e. Omkareshwar Properties.
Some lawyer called M L Sharma filed a petition in the Supreme Court for prosecution of Robert Vadra on the basis of charges framed by Dr. Ashok Khemka & promoted by Aam Aadmi Party, and the Supreme Court rightly threw the case out of the Court. There is nothing unusual about a Commericial License.
Considering the increase in the number of loopholes in this Post-Mortem Method, one can have little reliance over such mechanisms, in a serious fight against corruption.
What I would request BJP, to bring to the knowledge of Indian Citizens are Precautionary Measures to control Corruption.
Precautionary Measures to Control Corruption
1. Meritocracy & Transparency in the Postings & Promotions of Government Servants
It is a public secret that Govt Servants are paying loads of money to their superiors and to politicians for their postings or promotions into positions that give largest opportunities for earnings in the form of corruption money.
Anyone linked to the system of Governance & Administration would know that the targets for fund raising are given by Politicians at the Top to such Pliant Officials, who have secured their positions through payments of bribes.
This is the single biggest institutionalized mechanism of corruption in India.
There are retired senior Government Servants who retired with Hundreds or Thousands of Crores of Corruption money, extorted from Businessmen over years that they hold various Govt Depts.
2. Creating a Policy Environment that reduces Discretionary Powers of Govt Officials
Discretionary Powers given to the Govt officials has made them the Lords of any approval that Citizens seek. The guidelines issued by the Govt are interpreted as per the discretion of the Govt Official. They are relaxed only upon promise of payments.
3. ERP-based Process-Compliance & Time-Bound Approvals
The entire process of implementation of various policies should be re-engineered in each case. As far as possible, the processes should be placed on IT based system, in the manner of ERP. That way, there will be complete adherence to the set process, allow negligible deviation from set processes and time limit for each process should be set accordingly, which will not be skipped by the Govt personnel.
For e.g., in Robert Vadra case, since Govt Officials knew it was Vadra’s file, they knew the importance of clearing it quickly, and since no Bribe was expected, the Letter of Intent for the Commercial License was delivered within 18 Days. Whereas, for normal developers, since Bribe has to be collected, and there is little a Developer can do to harm the Govt Official, the Letter of Intent for such Land Use Licenses is issued after 5-6 months.
From this example we know that this process can be completed in 18 Days Time. If 18 Days is set as Official Deadline for issuance of LoI for Land Use License, the delay caused by (Dept of Town & Country Planning) DTCP Officials, which causes financial losses to businesspersons could easily be avoided, and with lack of such a fear, businessperson will not have to give any bribe.
We have also seen in case of 2G Scam, that while the pursuance of New telecom Policy of 1999 in 2007 seems awkward, even the procedure set under this system was not complied to by the Govt Officials and the Ministers.
4. Realistic & Simplification of Policies, as well as No Ambiguity in Future Policy Environment.
One of the largest breeding grounds for corruption has been unrealistic Policies of the Govt. This way, in order to make businesses viable, businesspersons are left with no option but to bribe Ministers/Bureaucrats, based on which the norms are then either flouted, or out-of-turn notifications are issued by Govt in order to correct the mistakes of earlier policies.
Simple, detailed rules & guidelines on policy implementation will help in not only removing ambiguity but also in taking away discretionary power of the bureaucrats. Even a layperson should be able to understand what the proper meaning of a certain clause in Govt’s Policy means.
If a certain policy is expected to change over a period of time, Govt should ensure there is no ambiguity in its timelines & expected final contents. In many cases, it is seen that certain policy initiatives have been applied even in cases where a prior approval exists on the basis of earlier policy. All this ambiguity is again utilized by corrupt personnel to extract bribes from people.
5. Small-time Corruption in Junior Staff
While Big Scams tend to scandalize the day lights out of common man, what irks them and keeps coming back at them is the Corruption at the Junior Level of Govt Offices, from Peons, Constables etc to Clerks.
We must recognize the fact that while Govt needs to clamp down on this corruption, which may be small but affects a large mass, in part, this goes on due to following problems that staff at such level faces.
1. Low Salary levels
2. Children’s Higher Education
3. Health Coverage
4. Post-retirement Housing
In my opinion, based on discussions with many such Govt officials at lower levels, the above four points cover majority of reasons for why Officials at such a level finds courage to take bribes.
There could be other reasons as well, but chances are the Govt’s clamp down on Corruption at lower level, coupled with State/Central Welfare schemes that address the above four issues, will take out a large amount of Corruption at lower level from systems.
Instead of giving subsidies, if such an amount is used on Welfare of Junior Staff, Govt may find a much better implementation of policies they formulate and thereby, nullifying the negative effect of such an additional burden.
6. Black Money Parking/Creation
India may have Trillions of Dollars of Blackmoney Parked into Swiss Banks, but before the recovery of all such money, it is important that additional black money is stopped.
Most of the Black Money (money outside Govt’s accounting system) is not the money that is printed outside Central Bank, but that which is though issued by RBI, doesn’t find mention in the Books of Accounts. Taxation is considered one of the largest reasons for people’s desire to keep money outside accounting system.
It is, therefore, important that BJP takes some serious & innovative Tax Reform ideas on board. The proposal by pune-based Arthakranti, of Abolition of Income Tax by replacing it with Banking Transaction Tax does seem interesting, but the media news about Arun Jaitley, Yashwant Sinha and few others, does seem like a bad news. That said, BJP still has to consider Tax Reforms in some other format.
BJP needs to be very very clear that Blackmoney is parked in Swiss Banks because they are Tax Havens – No Tax Environments. If Trillions of Dollars are parked outside the country, Trillions more will go outside if Taxation Policy is not corrected. The circulation of those Trillions of Dollars can have a magical effect on the overall Economy of the Country.
7. Other Blackmoney Parking and Conversion Mechanisms
Swiss Banks are not the only places where Blackmoney is Parked. It is parked & circulated within the Country as well. Cash generated at Retail/Wholesale shops in India is one of the biggest unaccounted sources of Cash, which gets circulated within the Economy when people need to under-report the asset they purchase, due to certain taxation on the purchase.
Such Cash, is purchased, by people. India has a huge Conversion Business running into at least a few Billion Dollars, with Kolkata as the Epicenter of the whole Trade. Many mechanisms exist, to take care of such conversions.
One simple mechanism is that between companies, amount in Bank is transferred to the other company, in return for Cash of Equivalent amount plus commissions. Which over years is shown as loans, and then written off as NPA. For e.g. Company A has Rs.5cr in its Bank Account and Company B has Rs.5cr in cash. Company A needs Rs.5cr Cash. So Company B will send Rs.5cr Cash to Company A while Company A will transfer Rs.5cr in bank, along with some conversion charges to Company B’s Bank Account.
Now, in the books of Company A, this will be shown as Loan given to Company B. After 3-4 years, the amount will be shown as NPA (Bad Loan) and written off.
The other Mechanism is, certain companies are created as Shell Companies, in whose Bank Account Large amount of Money is kept as Holding. This is usually done for very very large transactions, running from 100s to a few 100s of crores of rupees.
Let us understand what happens in this case, though an example again. Company X has Rs. 100cr kept in its Bank Accounts. Company B has Rs.100cr in Cash. Company B needs Rs. 100cr in Cheque, in order to make certain Capital Investment. Company B will buyout shares of Company A at some mutually agreed fake price. The cash will be handed over to owners of Company A, while the money in the Bank Account of Company A is now owned by owners of Company B.
These deals happen in very restricted circle and efforts by outsiders usually lead to nothing, as they are not entertained beyond a point.
Govt can easily track such transactions. This system is not without flaws. For example, writing off of Bad Loans after 3-4yrs could be reviewed and through good offices of ICAI.
Similarly, in spite of Cash in Bank, in the 2nd method, the share transfer at some ridiculous price can easily be tracked.
I think with just few of these implementations, BJP could lead the Fight against Corruption. It could shift the meaningless debate of Post Mortem based Measures to Precautionary, Administrative Reform based methods.
It could also bring much lower pressure on investigative and judicial bodies, to deal with cases of corruption.
In the end, the debate could achieve more realistic colors than mere idealism and misdirection that it has today.