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Taking sting out of corruption

The annual cost of political sleaze in India is as high as 3 per cent of its GDP growth rate. In graphics

india Updated: Jan 23, 2006 00:32 IST

A wave of media stings has put political corruption on the agenda. First it swallowed up sundry cops and babus and then moved to star cricketers and bollywood biggies. It got the holy cow of the armed forces and a priced ruling party chief. It has finally got to the very core of democracy, India’s Parliament.

People want to know whose plate is fullest in this great Indian feast. That is why the wave of stings is unlikely to recede in near future. Now that the writing is on the wall, the big question is: Can ethical behaviour be ingrained in people running India’spolitical establishment?

HT research team examines political corruption in these columns. We look at the electoral system to figure out why Transparency International rates political parties as the world’s most corrupt institution. We list global anti-corruption procedures and question the worldwide lobbying industry that survives on harvesting favours for vested interests. In the end we offer a road map based on the potential of India’s own institutions and the experiences of other countries.

It is ironical that India signed the UN Convention against Corruption three days before the cash for questions scam broke. (See box below the graphic). India is among 102 out of 140 signatories that have not ratified it. Obviously, the global political class is not in a hurry to sign, ratify and implement the stringent convention.

World Bank figures show that the cost of corruption in India could be as high as up to 3 per cent of its GDP growth rate. It reinforces the suspicion that the poorest are made to pay for the enrichment of the powerful. It justifies the popular cynicism that those caught on camera are small fries, and the fat cats of political sleaze would get more cautious and discreet with each sting. The box at the bottom lists some of the provisions, which were recommended by various committees in the past but ignored by the country’s politicians.

It is clear that the scale of corruption has no limits. It is now official that Nigeria’s military dictators squandered $ 400 billion between the country’s independence in 1960 and the return of democratic rule in 1999. The amount exceeds all Western aid to Africa in 40 years. This was obviously facilitated by the questionable business ethics of Western banks and businesses. Another major reminder came with the Enron scandal in the US where a handful of professional managers perpetrated a fraud with citizens’ savings.

The short answer to our big worries is timely and effective interventions, both domestic and international. We need proactive legal deterrence that makes compromise of integrity a political suicide and mechanisms, which promote transparent practices in politics, administration and business. Prevalence of leaders who have little to hide can take care of a lot of the remaining concerns.

First Published: Dec 26, 2005 01:54 IST