Politicians just love to fight over corruption, not against it


Don’t get carried away with the fight-to-finish kind of political battles between BJP and Congress over corruption, nor let loud TV debates and so-called global exposes overwhelm you. Irrespective of high decibel political drama over corruption, the fact remains that India’s track record in the fight against corruption is getting dismal and disappointing with every passing day.

Take any form or style of corruption, one would find India standing fairly atop on the global indexes, but we are the last of the lot when it comes to grappling with the same. After signing the international agreement on corruption in 2003 (implemented from 2005) most of countries have taken up determined strategic, institutional and policy reforms to combat graft. India, despite being an early signatory to the pact, doesn’t stand close to even its East Asian peers, when it comes to creating a national anti-corruption architecture.

On the occasion of Choppergate, it’s time to pay homage to the collective anger against corruption and the passage of Lokpal bill. The Lokpal Act has been in operation technically since January 2014, but the institution of Lokpal is still not in sight.

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One must recall that the Narendra Modi-led government had sent the Lokpal Act to the parliamentary committee of ministry of law for review and amendment. In December 2015, this committee had submitted the report to government with the recommendation to bring the Central Vigilance Commission and CBI’s anti-corruption wing within its purview.

This was not a story juicy enough to grab newspaper headlines or prime-time slots on news channels. Thus, the government could conveniently avoid acting on the same.

According to the UN agreement, India has to enact five laws to check corruption. The prominent one among them includes the Whistleblower’s Bill. By diluting the provisions for providing protection to people raising their voice against corruption, the government has made its intent suspect. This bill is stuck in the Rajya Sabha.

No initiative has been taken in the last two years on the other four, which includes the Judicial Accountability Bill for transparency in courts, Citizen’s Charter and Grievance Redressal Bill for transparency in public services, the bill to curb corruption in government services through amendment to the anti-corruption law and the bill for Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials and Officials of Public International Organisations.

Nobody is under the illusion that with Lokpal and the above-mentioned five laws, we would end the menace of corruption embedded in India’s political and work culture. This is merely the initial effort to curb corruption and create a structure of transparency. Even this small step is yet to be taken.

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Over the last few years, UNDP and Transparency International have studied anti-corruption strategies of various countries, which showcase stories of both triumph and disappointments in the complex battle against corruption. For instance, Romania, learning from its mistakes, has tried to create a successful system. Indonesia has won global acclaim by combining its anti-corruption strategies with governance reforms.

Australia has chosen a course of making its entire system transparent by combining governance and judicial reforms instead of making a national anti-corruption agency, while Malaysia chose to club its strategy to end corruption with its governance reform programme, which seeks to transform this developing country into a developed one by 2020.

China is forcing the world’s harshest anti-graft campaign through its powerful nodal anti-corruption agency. Since 2013, Premier Xi Jinping’s anti-graft drive has investigated more than 2,00,000 officials and communist party members and the rate of indictment is 90 per cent.

The strategy to combat corruption is based on four foundations. The first is to have a strong and independent anti graft agency. The second is a transparent monitoring of corruption; the third being adequate resources for investigations and extensive technical capabilities. The fourth is unambiguous laws and active courts that deliver quick and strict verdicts on corruption.

In India, we have none of these four. India’s struggle to make a powerful agency (Lokpal) is still on the way. The Central Vigilance Commission got a constitutional status only in 2003, after 39 years of its establishment. Yet, it did not get the right to investigate. The investigating agency CBI has been a “caged parrot” of governments. No system to properly measure corruption was ever built, and courts are not equipped with laws that can allow them to deal with complex cases of grand and petty corruption.

Reforms for transparency were never expected from Congress, tainted in various scams. However, one hoped the PM Modi-led government, which came into power riding a mandate against corruption, would not only investigate old scams in fast-track mode but would also give India far-reaching strategies and stable institutions to fight against corruption.

The political theatre of corruption has now become an absurd annual feature. However, nothing substantial comes out of it for people of the country craving for an effective strategy against corruption not a periodic political drama.

First published at dailyo.in

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