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by FR. FELIX RAJ, SJ, DIRECTOR |  « back


Governance and corruption
Fr. John Felix Raj. S.J.


Even after 56 years of self-rule, around 30% of the Indian population, according to official figures, is living below the poverty line. If poverty is not falling, it is because of poor governance, in the sense, that many of our objectives spelt out in our plans and programmes remain unfulfilled. While a small percentage enjoys a life of wealth and luxuries, 300 million live subsistence lives in poverty. This disparity partly is due to our feudal heritage. Poverty is part of our colonial inheritance. We promised at the time of independence that we will build an India free of poverty, but we have not fulfilled this promise. Adam Smith’s prediction in 1750 that, "in manufacturing art and industry, China and Indostan, though inferior now, will not be so to any part of Europe", has come true with China, but not with India. Everyone is talking about development, but who is doing anything about it?

Today, governance is intimately linked with corruption in India. As Sir Frederick Keith Ross once said, "Corruption is a sin; every government denounces it, and every government practices it". According to Human Development Report 2003, India ranks 124th in the human development index. A Transparency International (TI) Survey 2002 says that India stands out as one among the 30 most corrupt countries in the world. TI gives India an integrity score of merge 2.7 out of clean 10. TI has also found that Indians pay a whopping RS. 267 billion in bribes annually, with the health sector as the most corrupt with people being made to pay for what they are entitled.

As Ruddar Datt puts it, "A strong feeling has grown in Indian Public life that corruption is a way of life. Incase you are caught giving a bribe, you can get rid of the crime by paying a bribe". Bribe has become an incentive these days, which seems to increase work efficiency in public offices. It is disturbing to note that corruption has brought India among the lowest in the list of countries of the world in the matter of prevalence of corrupt activities. Our rulers and governments are known for scams and scandals. 1990s has been a decade of scams-the Bofors scam, the Bank Securities scam, the Hawala scam, Telecom scam, Fertilizer import scam, PSE disinvestment scam etc. Our governments Centre and States are known for corruption charges involving those who occupy top political positions. Corruption manifests itself in many forms: at the highest political level as horse-trading of MLAs and MPs; at the fiscal level in the form of evading taxes, at the corporate level in terms of financing elections by black money and so on.

Corruption in governance is the root cause of many evils today. It has brought down the quality of governance. A survey of 7 government departments conducted in 2002 in five metros in India rated Delhi's Customs and Excise Department the most corrupt, scoring 8.6 on a scale of 10. As Joseph Stighitz says, "We are coming to recognize that lack of development is often due to failures of collective action. The problem is not just predatory States, but States failing to provide the institutional infrastructure required for a sound economy. It is important that the State undertakes its responsibilities and does so effectively and efficiently". The State, besides ensuring that it performs its own functions well, also has a role to monitor other institutions in the country. The institutional arrangement in a society must be efficiency enhancing, not power and wealth preserving.

Kautilya, the successful minister and adviser to Chandragupta Maurya in the 4th Century B.C. in modern day Patna and the author of Arthasastra and, Thiruvalluvar, the revered poet of Tamil Nadu and the author of Thirukkural in the1st Century B.C., though lived thousands of miles away from each other and though were from different backgrounds and profession, shared the same wisdom when they wrote on governance: "A wise leader (king) can make even the poor and miserable sections of his country happy and prosperous. If a leader (king) is energetic, his subjects will also be energetic. When there is rain, the world enjoys prosperity; when the leader (king) rules with justice, his subjects prosper; when the leader (king) serves his country, justice will defend his leadership. While being sworn in as the president of India, Dr. Abdul Kalam, the visionary, said that a country needs to have the characteristics as enshrined in Thirukkural and quoted from the Kural: “Pini inmai Selvam Vilaivinbam Emam, aniyenba Nattirku vainthu”. That is “The important elements that constitute a nation are: being disease free; wealth; high productivity; harmonious living and strong defense.”

Our political system and administrative functioning are with many weaknesses and inadequacies, which are proving a handicap in providing satisfactory delivery of goods and services to the people. A few years ago, John Major, ex-British Prime Minister appointed a committee under the leadership of British Lawyer, Lord Nolan to draw up a charter of governance in public life. This committee drew up six principles under the charter:

  1. Selflessness in service

  2. Integrity in life;

  3. Objectivity;

  4. Accountability;

  5. Honesty;

  6. Leadership.

Leaders are expected to lead by their life examples and be more constructive rather than corrupt. They are called to become popular not by their money power, but by their easy access to the public and the alert performance of their duties. What A.H. Hanson observed some 40 years ago about Indian Planning still holds true: "The men are able, the organization is adequate and the procedures are intelligently devised. Why then, have the plans, since 1956 so persistently run into crisis? For various reasons Indian planners have never treated the objective function with sufficient respect. Their tendency is to give themselves the fullest benefit of every possible doubt".

If we are serious about development, then we must have to start preparing a population that is healthy and educated to participate in our economy. Secondly, we will have to mobilize resources: natural, human, financial and technological. Our country is fast developing technologically and the speed must be kept up and the technological growth must become people centered and used for the eradication of poverty. Poverty reduction also is possible with structural changes. A market friendly approach may be welcome but as Paul Streeten says, "Free markets are neutral institutions, which can work good or ill". In the words of Joan Robinson, "The Invisible Hand can work by strangulation". If the work of the Invisible Hand is to be made visible, then markets should become people friendly. Reforms are welcome, but with a human face. This can be done only with good governance and effective regulation. Governance must promote the empowerment of poor people so that they can participate strongly in the process of development. This is very crucial for combating poverty. The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan recently said, "Good governance is perhaps the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development".

We need to formulate a pro-poor development strategy. In the words of Nicholas Stern, "The two pillars of this strategy are: 1) building an investment climate that facilitates investment and growth, and 2) empowering poor people to participate in that growth. The Government has an obligation to protect farmers, workers, and entrepreneurs, and to provide opportunities and incentives for investment and creation of new wealth. We need committed leaders who take positive action to initiate new order of things - economic stability, structural and institutional changes and research to eradicate poverty. Economists like Kirit Parikh have predicted that ‘India could have a per capita income of US $ 30,000/- by 2047.’ American economist A. J. Rosenswerg expects ‘India's GDP to exceed that of Japan by 2025 and India to be the third largest economy in the world (after USA and China).’ Will their predictions come true? The GDP growth rate has been 5.4 per cent and 6.0 per cent in 2001 and 2002 respectively. It is said that if Indian economy grows at a rate of 6 per cent per annum on a sustained basis, it will take 14 years to reach the current level of China’s per capita income (around $ 850), 36 years to reach that of Thailand (around $ 2020), and 104 years to reach that of USA (around $ 27,000). Only the quality of governance has the answer.


The author is vice-principal, St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata

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