Thursday, May 19, 2005

Corruption and Good Governance
By Sanjay Prakash, The Kathmandu Post, February 25, 2002

Earlier, people earned to live; now they live to earn. Obviously, the transformed attitude has pushed the ethics of an individual out of its own reach. To achieve the sole objective of earning money, to satisfy their never-ending desires, people use short-cuts. Once the individual takes to the short-cuts, paved by fraudulent activities, he becomes deaf to the voice of his conscience. It is not that people are unaware of their acts but there is a basic difference between knowing a thing and understanding it. So ultimately one is trapped in the web of short-cuts or the all-powerful "money".

From the development perspective, corruption can be considered a two-way street so far as the donor and recipient countries interface is concerned. Very often scandals of graft have been disclosed. Yet, graft is not possible without collusion among giant private corporations and public agencies, foreign contractors, or consultants. Sometimes, such activity is associated with foreign aid. Foreign companies practically argue that bribery is nothing but one of the costs of doing business in a country. What can be done about these circumstances poses a challenge not only to the aid recipient government but also to donors.

This connection the recommendations for both recipient as well as donors are: simplify the rules, reduce unnecessary regulations, rely more on market forces, insist upon meeting the procurement and contracting standards; ensure laws that make it mandatory to meet auditing requirements, study audit reports, and pay attention to the manner in which the disbursements are handled. The World Bank has become particular about these points. Despite the above safeguards, the problems are still daunting.

Therefore, donors have a specific responsibility to ensure that commercial considerations do not undermine good economic management in developing countries. Encouraging governments to come up with sound public investment programmes and priority is important. The donor's contributions can be meaningful if recipient countries are prepared to listen. In many cases, recipients blame donors when assistance programmes fail to achieve the intended results. This is not fair. It is the recipient country's responsibility to make sound strategies for aid programmes based on a comprehensive study beforehand. This calls for thorough homework that analyses and anticipates detailed end results.

Eradicating corruption at all levels in the Nepalese bureaucracy should become a basic concern for political leaders as well as bureaucrats. Corruption can be reduced by practising greater transparency. For this, the role of the people is equally pivotal. More importantly, people's support for eliminating corruption can be attained only when political leaders are deeply imbued with a sense of integrity, responsibility and sacrifice.

Recently, the donor community, on their part, raised concern over issues including crisis in governance, rampant corruption and poor implementation of development projects. They also urged the government to trim the size of the bureaucracy to reduce soaring government expenditure. The government's reform agenda rests on the commitments made at the NDF in Paris in April 2000.

The proposed priority actions involve initiatives in macro-economic stability, civil service reform, anti-corruption initiatives, decentralisation, financial sector reform, private sector development, aid effectiveness and the role of society in development.

Sometimes corruption is home-grown but all too often international business corporations are seen to have bribed political leaders and public officials in other countries or funded political parties in a way which threatens the proper working of the democratic process.
The prime concern is with 'the misuse of public power for private benefit,' often called grand corruption. Grand corruption usually involves the giving of a benefit to a political leader or senior public official by a businessman in return for a decision in his favour. It is usually something that the leader should not do and that is also likely to be illegal.

All acts of corruption exhibit the following characteristic: They involve more than one person, on the whole, they involve secrecy except in situations where they have become so rampant and deep rooted that some powerful individuals or those under their protection would not bother to hide their activities; they involve an element of mutual obligation and mutual benefit; those who engage in them usually attempt to camouflage their activities by resorting to some sort of lawful justification.

They avoid open clash with the law; those involved in them want definite decisions from those who are able to influence those decisions; they involve betrayal of trust; they involve contradictory dual functions of those committing the act; and they violate the norm of duty and responsibility within the civic order. These acts can broadly be classified into three categories: extortion, nepotism and bribery.

There are those who believe that corruption has positive consequences for society. In many developing and least developed countries, for example, corrupt practices serve as a means by which the western inspired bureaucracy and administrative systems are reconnected to indigenous realities and adopted to the every day lives of the people. For one acts of corruption sometimes function as redistribute mechanisms which allow the disadvantaged groups in a society to gain access to and avail of the required goods and services from the government. They serve as means to assimilate into the political system those who would otherwise be excluded by the legal system.

For the most part, however, corruption is simply a means to cope with and survive the complex requirements and stringent impositions of an alien bureaucracy. On the part of the corrupt party, for example, bribery is simply a more efficient and probably much safer means of gaining access to productive and subsistence resources they need than committing acts of violent resistance. On the part of the corrupt civil servants, on the other hand, soliciting money or gifts from those seeking favours is far easier than applying for loans from their respective agencies.

The revenue service is more lucrative among the government services. As it has been said Kar ma basyo ghar baninchha. Bhansar ma basiyo bhane sansar baninchha (If you work in the Tax Office, you will build a house, while in the customs you can make your own world).

The negative effects of corruption on society as a whole far outweigh the short-term benefits it allows to some sectors of society, however. The undermining effects it has on the allocative and distributive functions of the state translate to undelivered goods and services to the sectors that need them the most. Corrupt practices distort the distribution of opportunities in favour of the more powerful and more influential members of society.

If bureaucratic corruption is a coping mechanism that evolves out of the need to reconnect the bureaucracy to the realities of the day-to-day existence of people in society, how did it evolve over time? How can the social problem of corruption be resolved? First, we have to recognise that social norms and value systems are accumulated experiences of successful collective coping mechanisms over time. As such, they are more difficult to change just to suit an alien notion of what an ideal public administrative system should be.

This being the case, efforts should be undertaken towards reorienting government administrative practices to make them suitable to the prevailing norms and values rather than the other way round. It is only when the government bureaucracy could prove and assert its role as the protector of the collective sentiment of the members of society that efforts to address corruption could actually be more successful.

As such the following strategy for controlling corruption can be recommended: honesty should flow from top down, and create an atmosphere under which the chances for indulging in corrupt practices are kept down to the minimum. While doing so, if there is corruption, the corrupt should be taken to the courts for punishment. Both curative and preventive measures should be adopted and implemented accordingly.

"I either want less corruption, or more chance to participate in it." - Ashleigh Brilliant, 1933

"The accomplish to the crime of corruption is frequently our own indifference." - Bess Myerson, 1924-present

"In all institutions from which the cold wind of open criticism is excluded, an innocent corruption begins to grow like a mushroom - for example, in senates and learned societies." - Friedrich Nietzsche, 1844-1900

"Corruption is like a ball of snow, once it's set arolling, it must increase." - Charles Colton, 1780-1832

"Corruption is worse than prostitution. The latter might endanger the morals of an individual; the former invariably endangers the morals of the entire country." - Karl Kraus, 1874-1936.

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