Most people seem to have missed two points concerning the anti-corruption movement. The first is that the agitators — like the ones in Africa and West Asia — are mainly angry young people who have no time for politicians and bureaucrats and their time-consuming ways. They have little patience for slow-moving policies, promises or the endless cases in the courts. They also have no patience for inquiry commissions that were sufficient to pacify the earlier generations. Religious or political ideologies do not stir them and they despise the politicians and bureaucrats who manage the old slow-moving systems.
Not surprisingly, the Indian government too seems to be incompetent in dealing with these people and their emotional upsurge. Corruption may appear to be the immediate trigger but there is also an increasing realisation that the old systems cannot keep pace with their aspirations for quick resolutions of their problems and roll out efficient strategies for development.
Faced with this demand for fast chan-ges, the politicians and bureaucrats argue that Parliament needs time to pass new laws. This does not satisfy today's younger set because they not only want better laws but also better implementation of the existing laws. Despite brave words, the government is helpless and cannot speed things up or curb corruption unless there are major administrative reforms to cut down the multiple layers of bureaucracy which create multiple pockets of corruption.
The journey of a government file from the bottom to the top is slow and tortuous. A file needs about 50 or more clearances and it is not surprising that applicants pay agents to push their files through this labyrinth. The much-vaunted British system of checks and balances has been vastly streamlined for efficiency in Britain and Singapore but in India, the old structures and time-consuming processes continue.
With so many gatekeepers in the decision-making process, it is rare that 'speed money' alone can speed up things as even ministers are often unable to force the bureaucrats to listen to them. Things will only improve if we follow the example of Britain or Singapore and drastically reduce the number of regulations and regulators and make approvals or rejections transparent and quick.
While bureaucrats do not want to change a system that will make them accountable, politicians will also not allow anything beyond token changes because they need bureaucrats to do their dirty work. Therefore, it is not surprising that both are stonewalling reforms. But we have seen that the old nostrums of brave words and delaying tactics will not be enough anymore - what we need now are drastic administrative reforms.
Murad Ali Baig is a Delhi-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.