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Corruption: How can it be countered?


Corruption is a way of life

I had written an article arguing that corruption permeates our society because the state permeates every level of our society. The solution to this, therefore was that the state be limited. This article is written as a second part of the article. 

State officials are invariably susceptible to corruption by powerful persons, whether it be India, the US or China. Limiting the ability of state officials obviously will limit their ability to be corrupt, but the state obviously cannot be eliminated. The scope for bribery in it myriad formats will always exist. In such a situation, what can be done to counter it?

Corruption is a phenomenon that is bound to occur in any society. It becomes a problem when the basic delivery mechanism and the law and order is influenced by it.

There needs to be a differentiation between “retail corruption” i.e.,  corruption experienced by ordinary citizens in their daily life and the corruption by politicians and high level bureaucrats, which I shall describe as “High-Level Corruption” in this article. This distinction has to be made because retail corruption is a bigger problem for ordinary citizens, one that impedes citizen access to basic public services. However, the electorate tends to focus on high-level corruption. This is unfortunate, since retail corruption tends to affect them significantly more than high level corruption. Even while an ostensibly “clean” government in power, low-level bureaucrats are not discouraged from utilizing public office for private profit. An example can be sourced form Kerala itself. While the current Left Front Government is not known to indulge in it, unlike its predecessor UDF, which was plagued by corruption scandals, there have been more than enough examples of low-level corruption continuing unabated, especially in revenue and public works departments. The solution to this problem requires institutional reform, stronger mechanisms to prosecute and punish corruption, while ensuring the professionalism and objectivity of the Anti-Corruption bureau.

Processes, especially citizen delivery services can be made electronic to prevent an avenue for corruption, as I earlier noted. The transfer of welfare benefits directly to bank accounts also inhibit potential corruption via delivery mechanisms. The problem with such institutional reform that it would be against the interests of the ruling dispensation to push through such reforms, as the permanent state/bureaucracy will actively protest against any change of the status quo. Governments in power should be willing to actively antagonize their officers to achieve such a result. To what extent this is possible remains questionable.

As the state is able to increase efficiency in these particular aspects, corruption will automatically reduce. It cannot, however be eliminated. The best we can and must do is to make the mechanism as efficient as possible, and effectively prosecute any cases of corruption.


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