Friday, May 27, 2011

Lokpal Must Remember the Axiom: Corruption = M + D - A

Anno Domini 2010-11 scams – CWG, Adarsh, 2G, Niira Radia(tion) – are every bit surreal and growing menacingly; each as unconscionable as the other – something modern India had never experienced before.
          By any facile definition, corruption is immoral, illegal, illicit, and illegitimate. Peel off the epidermis masking these semantics, and corruption surfaces as a crime of well-reasoned, well-conceived, cold immoral calculus. Individuals weigh the benefits and the costs of giving and taking bribes.
Shorn of attitudes, one can analyze systems in terms of their vulnerability to corruption. This is true both of the private and government sectors. Competition is less vulnerable to corruption than monopoly. Robert Klitgaard declaims, “Corruption is more pronounced in systems characterized by the formula C = M + D – A: corruption equals monopoly plus discretion minus accountability.”
Put the three magnum scams through this wringer. The CWG scam was due to the Organizing Committee doing what its high priest willed, giving the processes a slip. Discretion wasn’t spelt out, there was no accountability. It was banana republic at its worst.
The same with Adarsh: A criminal conspiracy where Discretion was the Dictator, and Accountability the Arch-Slave – hatched with breathless planning and flawless networking. The conspiracy threw up its own Monopoly. How else would one expect the high and mighty to hide behind the fig-leaf of Kargil martyrs! It was the greatest shame heaped on the armed forces whose chiefs and senior officers were caught in the buff.
The 2G Spectrum scam was indeed sui generis. With skeletons showing the unholy nexus between politicians-bureaucrats-corporate-media, it showed Monopoly and limitless Discretion with Accountability missing.
How may we begin? First, promote competition. But there would be monopolies that can’t be wished away: a nation’s natural and electromagnetic resources. When Monopoly is inevitable, Discretion must be circumscribed and made transparent, and Accountability must be total. In the case of 2G spectrum scam, Discretion far from being carefully delineated was given the freest run, and Accountability didn’t exist!
            It is importance that given human nature, there would be the impulse to improve one’s lot even when transactions are not legal. Consequently, officials will veer towards corruption when the ostensible gain from corruption far outstrips the penalty imposed times the probability of being caught and punished.
            How then must we limit corruption? It could be two-fold: Institutional mechanism and strong punitive action. Reduce monopoly to the limit possible, circumscribe discretion and temper it with transparency, and enhance accountability. Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption is a super-body against corruption combining investigation, prevention, and popular participation.
            Then there is need for exemplary punitive action. Klitgaard suggests picking the low-hanging fruits and upsetting the applecart that promotes the reprehensible culture of impunity – to disabuse cynical citizen’s mind that is jaded and defeatist. Today, corruption is not only tolerated but has become a way of life.
The above suggestions presuppose heralding changes by simplifying laws, protocolizing procedures, and making processes transparent. What we have today is not lack of rules but surfeit of them; each caught up in woolly tangles making legal interpretations – and consequential adjudicatory processes endlessly long-winded – so infuriatingly exasperating that dares even to trivialize the constitutional office of the CAG.
The Big Three scams – CWG, Adarsh, 2G – of India Shaming have blessed us with material that makes for excellent case studies to educate ourselves. Given public outrage, they must form the cornerstone to cleanse the system from the cancer of corruption. Each scam could be analyzed threadbare with formulaic C = M + D - A to lay bare how the processes and systems were subverted, suborned and the nation deprived of its resources.
The Lokpal Panel must remember the above axiom while drawing up the Bill. With citizens demanding their right to corruption-free governance as their inalienable right, the public servants have to shore up their acts and perform. It is not merely financial honesty, but slowly as society casts its laser gaze on acts of omission and commission, this rarefied realm of moral and intellectual honesty would be placed under electron microscope. Silence, inaction, politeness, financial and sterile honesty wouldn’t do. The media – now bristling with righteous indignation – will tear into them. Hopefully, the dishonest and inept will run for cover much as the honest shall revel in their new-found luminance.

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