Removing corruption in India entails a look at ultimate reasons, not proximate causes
Here’s a supposedly novel approach to corruption, the legalization of bribery, courtesy Ajay Shankar Pandey, the Municipal Commissioner of Ghaziabad [Chicago Tribune].
Today, contractors being paid after finishing long-delayed construction projects write the municipality a check for the 15 percent bribe that once would have gone to corrupt city officials. The money, for which the contractors now receive a city receipt, goes to install sewers, roads and lighting in the city’s slums.
Soon after arriving, the earnest new commissioner called in the city’s contractors, promising they would get the money owed them once they adequately finished their work and that they would no longer have to hand over a cut to his staff.
“I told them my officers are now ready to work in an honest and transparent atmosphere,” he said. The contractors “took it positively. They came back and told me how much they had been paying, 10 percent, 15 percent.”
So Pandey established an official 15 percent city cut on all old contracts, which had been padded to provide it. Bids for new projects, he ordered, should now be written without room for bribe paying.
While Ajay Pandey deserves support and plaudits for his efforts, I’m skeptical that “legalization of bribery” is a sustainable solution. Why is bribery so widespread in India? Here’s a (simplistic) list of the reasons
A: From the demand side
1) Government officials at all levels have the power to make abritrary decisions.
2) Most of the time, there’s very little transparency and openness around these decisions.
3) The compensation levels in government are woefully low, so much so that it’s very difficult for many public servants to “afford morals”. And, of course, politicians have their own fund-raising pressures.
4) The downside to accepting bribes — legal steps (fines/ and or jails), punitive action on the job, peer pressure or public reproach — is minimal.
B: From the supply side
5) Some (many?) companies/ individuals will do whatever it takes to get ahead.
6) Because of 4), even honest firms and individuals are forced to cough up, just to remain in business.
Given this list, what exactly does Ajay Pandey’s solution offer?
City officials — including at least a few former bribe takers — insist they have been inspired, or at least frightened, into changing their old habits.
…the city officers “are very quiet now and not asking for anything. If a contractor asks for anything extra, he can be blacklisted. If an official asks for something, we can report them and they’ll be suspended. There’s nothing going on now”(as per one of the vendors quoted in the article).
Pandey’s measures address reason #4 (partially) by creating a tough supervisory environment and reasons #5 and #6 (partially), by leveling the playing field (sort of) for all companies. Unfortunately enough, until the other deeper reasons, the ultimate causes are addressed, measures such as “legalizing bribery” will at best be a short-term solution that’s likely to hold as long as Pandey is in office. Once he leaves, it will be back to business as usual.
What do you think?