A plan to curb corruption

A plan to curb corruption

It’s a truism that corruption is pervasive in India. An equally troubling aspect is that our leaders, administrators and civil society are aware of the problem. And in spite of a plethora of laws to control the problem, it only continues to grow.

Now the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) has issued a national anti-corruption strategy that it hopes will make a difference. There is much to be said in favour of the report: It highlights the issue very well and makes a series of thoughtful solutions. But that is just about what CVC can do. The levers that can ameliorate the problem lie elsewhere.

The matter is clearly highlighted in section III of the report where CVC talks about the strategy to address political and administrative corruption. The problem of funding electoral and other expenditures of political parties is highlighted clearly. Insensitivity of civil servants and their remoteness from citizens at large is also discussed.

The CVC’s solution to these problems is threefold. One, strengthening political will to confront corruption; two, building ethical competence in public officials; and finally, strengthening administrative reforms. This is like putting the cart before the horse. If political will did exist, then the matter would have been sorted out a long time ago. By putting a large part of the onus on strengthening of political will, CVC has taken the problem in a different, psychological, direction. That is a different and intractable issue.

Lest this be taken as unfair criticism of CVC, the argument should be clarified a bit more. It is not a problem specific to CVC, but more about the mode of thinking peculiar to civil servants who tend to explore legal and administrative routes to what is essentially a political matter. The solutions are fine on paper, as is the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. The reality is very different and altogether nasty.

One can always question the logic of these assertions by saying that why and how do similar institutions, laws and rules succeed in curbing corruption in developed countries? One answer would be to say they’ve had a different, much longer institutional history, on this front. A more important aspect, however, is that any system works as best as the people who run it. Here, India is remarkably far behind its peers in the West.

This should not be taken as a sign of hopelessness. The benefit from reports such as the one issued by CVC is that they heighten public consciousness on corruption. It will take a long time to eliminate corruption, but its public unacceptability is the first step on that long road.

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