INCREASING CORRUPTION: CAN ANYTHING BE DONE ABOUT IT?
Way back in 200 B.C., Kautilya meticulously described 40 different kinds of corruption in his Arthashastra. He has aptly commented: “Just as it is impossible not to taste honey or poison when it is at the tip of the tongue, so it is impossible for a government servant not to eat up a bit of revenue. And just as it cannot be found out whether a fish swimming through water drinks or not so also government servants cannot be found out while taking money for themselves.”
What exactly is corruption? Corruption is defined as moral depravity and influencing through bribery. Essentially, corruption is the abuse of trust in the interest of private gain.
And it can be divided into five broad types: transactive, extortive, defensive, investive and nepotistic. The transactive type refers to the mutual agreement between donor and recipient to the advantage of, and actively pursued by, both parties. This normally involves business man and government. The extortive type is the kind where the donor is compelled to bribe in order to avoid harm being inflicted upon his person or his interest
Defensive corruption is the behaviour of the victim of extortive corruption. His corruption is in self-defence. Investive corruption involves the offer of goods or services without any direct link to a particular favour but in anticipation of future occasions when the favour will be required.
And nepotistic corruption, or nepotism, is the unjustified appointment of relatives or friends to public office, or according them favoured treatment, in pecuniary or other forms, violating the norms and the rules of the organization.
The constituent elements of corruption are cheating and stealing. Where corruption takes the extortive form, it is stealing by force through compulsion of the victim. Where it concerns bribing a functionary, the latter is involved in theft. No society or culture condones stealing and cheating, actually all cultures condemn these activities.
Take India. As early as 1000 BC, the laws of Man laid down those corrupt officials who accept bribes from the villagers are to be banished and have their property seized. Condemnation of bribery, of greed, of misappropriation of property has accompanied Hindu thought throughout the ages and yet corruption is deep-rooted in India today. It is not difficult to locate the causes of corruption. Corruption breeds t the top and then gradually filters down to the lower levels. Gone are the days when people who joined politics were imbued with the spirit of serving the nation. Those who plunged themselves into the fight for freedom knew that there were only sacrifices to be made, no return was expected. So only the selfless people came forward. But the modem politicians are of entirely different mould. They are not motivated by any lofty ideals. They win elections at a huge personal cost and then try to make the best of the opportunity they get Powerful business magnates who are forced to give huge donations to political parties indulge in corrupt practices not only to make up their losses but also to consolidate their gains. When people in power indulge in corruption so unabashedly, the common man gets a kind of sanction. Ironically, instead of fighting against the menace of corruption, our political leaders declare it a worldwide phenomenon and accept it as something inevitable.
India enjoys a none-too-credible position in the league of corruptions. We are in the age where corruption has become a national menace. Transparency international, in its report for 1999, ranks India at 73 out of 99 countries in its Corruption Perception Index. Last year’s Human Development Report published by the Mahbub ul Haque Centre in Islamabad says that if the level of corruption in India can be brought down to that of the Scandinavian countries, foreign direct investment will go up by 1.5% of GDP.
The main point made by the Human Development Report is about the special nature of corruption in India. Corruption in our country has four key characteristics that make it far more damaging than corruption in other parts of the world.
First, corruption in India occurs upstream, not downstream. Corruption at the top distorts fundamental decisions about development priorities, policies and projects. In industrial countries, these core decisions are taken through transparent competition and on merit, even though petty corruption may occur downstream.
Second, corruption money in India has wings, not wheels. Most of the corrupt gains made in the region are immediately smuggled out to safe made in the region are immediately smuggled out to safe havens abroad. While there is some capital flight in other countries as well, a greater proportion of corruption money is actually ploughed back into domestic production and investment. In other words, it is more likely that corruption money is used to finance business than to fill foreign accounts.
Third, corruption in India occurs with 345 million people in poverty. While corruption in rich, rapidly growing countries may be tolerable though reprehensible, in poverty stricken South Asia, it is appalling that the majority of the population cannot meet their basic needs while a few make fortunes through corruption. This corruption in South Asia does not lead simply to cabinet portfolio shifts or newspaper headlines, but to massive human deprivation and even more extreme income inequalities. Combating corruption in the region is not just about punishing corrupt politicians and bureaucrats but also saving human Jives.
Infotech can be a prime weapon against corruption. Information technology is making its presence felt in India. Therefore, India is not only a corrupt country; it is also a country which is hoping to emerge as an Infotech superpower or a software superpower. The interesting point for consideration therefore is that can Infotech be used to help India become economic superpowers by checking corruption? To understand this, we must first understand the dynamics of corruption and the dynamics of Infotech So far as the dynamics of corruption are concerned; it is obvious that corruption flourishes in our country because of the following five reasons:
- Scarcity of goods and services
- Lack of transparency
- Complicated rules and red tape, which encourage corruption
through ‘speed’ money.
- Legal cushions safety created for the corrupt under the healthy
assumption that everybody is innocent till proved guilty.
- Tribalism or biradari between the corrupt.
It is therefore logical that if we can tackle each of the five cause of corruption, we should be able to check the malaise to that extent. Information technology can help us to tackle these causes of corruption.
Let us look at the features of information technology. The first of these is its capacity for processing information very fast to borrow Bill Gate’s expression, business at the speed of though! In fact, we know that delay in decision-making is the breeding ground for corruption. Information technology can help speed up the processes to assist in decision-making.
Computerization can check bank fraud too. If specimen signatures are fed in the computer, it will facilitate easy verification and provide security against forgery. Stop payment instructions received by bankers can alert the teller whenever a lost cheque is presented.
The manipulation of books by unscrupulous staff can be prevented or detected because computerization would enable tallying/balancing of books on a daily basis. The reconciliation of transactions relating a draft issued and paid through a computerized system would help the early detection of fraudulent payments. Fraud relating to local clearing operation may be minimised through the prompt reconciliation of the number and amount of cheques through a computerized banking system.
Attempts by unscrupulous employees to perpetrate frauds by raising fake credits through inter-branch accounts may be thwarted through a computerized system for reconciliation of entries between originating branches and responding branches.
With the introduction of passbook writing machines, fraud relating to the misappropriation of cash receipts by cash department staff can be prevented or detected early.
According to credit bank’s guidelines, electronic clearance systems have been introduced at the metros for corporate clients. But the lack of proper reconciliation on a daily basis has facilitated the perpetration of massive fraud. Again, software that enables daily reconciliation can be used to detect fraud early.
As regards advances in credit-related fraud, it would help if banks computerized the database of parties enjoying credit facilities from different banks to avoid double financing. A database on fraudsters and willful defaulters with photographs will help the banking system protect itself. The Central Vigilance Commissioner, Mr. N. Vittal has noted that it is possible to go on cheating banks one after the other because they did not have a system of communicating information about willful defaulters among themselves. The CVC therefore directed in November 1999 that all cases of willful default of Rs. 25 lakhs and above be reported to the RBI as and when they occur or are detected.
While there are client confidentiality restrictions under Article 14 of the Constitution, it would not be out of place to suggest that the public has a right to know the identity of the willful defaulters who are cheating nationalized banks. This will also bring in the necessary social shame and pressure on the unscrupulous, corrupt willful defaulters who are today responsible for the formidable non-performing assets to the tune of Rs. 45,000 crores in our banking system.
So speedy transactions can reduce the scope for corruption. The second cause of corruption is lack of transparency a customer does not get to know what his rights are and how his case is being handled. It is a healthy sign that the Central government is thinking of coming up with a Freedom of Information Act. Various State governments are also talking about setting up information kiosks.
In Andhra Pradesh, Chief Minister, Mr. Chandrababu Naidu aims to allow citizens to conduct transactions with the government through computers. The whole State is being networked with Andhra Pradesh Wide Area Network so that payment of taxes and obtaining of certificates and even issue of ration cards become faster and free of corruption.
Of course, public servants will resist (as they did in Andhra Pradesh early last year) any attempt to curtail their power to make money. For example, computerization of the Registration Department for property transfer has cut transaction time to less than an hour, which earlier used to take two weeks or more.
Infotech also ensures that the files are never lost, thus rendering the paper trial inerasable. This can be done by scanning and storing of confidential files. Of course, this will also means that cyber laws have to come into effect.
Database need to be computerized. The National Crime Records Bureau, for example has got data about corrupt elements and their modus operandi. By using computerized search options rather than shirring the database manually, the police can help to bring the corrupt to book more effectively and speedily.
These are some ideas about how information technology can help to fight corruption. What India needs is a greater display of imagination in locating the causes for corruption and seeing how, in each area, Infotech can help?