Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why We Bribe

I would be the first to agree that the Jan Lok Pal is not a magic wand that will cleanse the system of corruption. It is like saying that because there are laws in India no one breaks them! Of course everyone breaks the law here. And that is the problem. Not the law itself in most cases.

Why do we break the law so easily? Because they are not implemented strictly. In most cases people can get away with bribes - from petty offences to murder, corporate fraud to corruption. (Sometimes people pay bribes not to be implicated in crimes!) There are at least three angles to this - the person on whom laws are to be enforced, the enforcer and of course the law maker.

The reason why laws are broken by common people easily is because the enforcers of laws are willing to look away for a small fee. Even a school child in India knows how to get away if he or she is caught by a traffic cop. Every push cart owner knows, every beggar probably knows how to get around. Of course the law by itself is clear and pucca. It has recourses and remedies and punishments. But everyone knows how to get around it. The law enforcers have almost nothing to fear and so for the common folk bribes are a way of life. Everyone is happy!

The second part is the law enforcer who is in a position to take advantage of the system because there are no definite guidelines, nothing definite to pin him down. Ever visited a government office, a police station, a government hospital? You know there is hardly anyone in their place. If you find them they are (usually) most unhappy at seeing you. They are rude, they ask you to come back, go away, ask you why you have come, ask you what you want them to do, ask for bribes. Rarely do people get work done in one visit. (This situation has changed quite a bit in certain departments in urban areas after computerisation and outsourcing). The only way to get things done in almost all cases, and here the majority of our 1 billion Indians will agree, is to pay bribes and get things done. If you choose to complain, and go the ACB route, there is a further strain on your time and resources. Many times the culprits get away, or they harass you further. Sometimes the department sees you as an enemy and that is the end of the case. Many people who fight this route find it more difficult to prove their case. They have nothing to base their case on. What is the duty of the government officer? What is the procedure? What is the time limit? Why is he not clearing it? If he does not, what is the punishment? What exactly is the status of the case and how can the problem be solved? Nothing. There is nothing there. He can say anything like he was not well, file is missing, he is examining the file, he has too much workload, he was on leave...anything, for years. Yes, a few people do get caught but mostly the lower level. And here also, all law enforcers also know how to get away if ever they are caught. See the number of convictions and one knows the true picture. Funnily, most actually get promoted!

The third cog in the system is the law maker. Our laws have been made in such a way that they give the law makers and the law enforcers enough loopholes to get away. Yes, if interpreted well and implemented correctly, they should work. But we are talking of olden times when law makers resigned at the slightest allegation that they are not doing what is expected of them - to work for the highest good of the people. On the contrary we are in times when law makers are resigning when their misdeeds are being probed and found out to blackmail the government! (Any wonder why people close to most of our law makers seem to get away with murder?) These loopholes have been systematically misused by many law makers in the hope that they can never ever be made accountable. Now when some law comes in from the outside that is going to make them accountable, many of them will not like it. So they will fight tooth and nail to keep the loopholes. They suddenly become one. They are a tightly knit bunch, the same law makers, irrespective of party lines and agendas. On certain issues they come together rising over party lines. No points for guessing what.

But what is heartening is the number of corrupt people who are in jail now. The CBI is investigating and revealing more scams, more frauds on the people. From Ramalinga Raju to Kalmadi, Raja to Kanimozhi everyone is feeling the heat. But most times it is happening after the deeds have been done and money is missing and spent. Where is the money? That is the key.

The CBI, left to itself can do a wonderful job. It is the selectiveness with which it is used that bothers the public. It has been slowly made a political tool. If Jagan (of YSR Congress) had stayed with the Congress, instead of unwisely breaking away, surely there might not have been the CBI enquiry against him, which is currently unearthing all sorts of misdeeds by him when his father was the Chief Minister. And that is the tragedy of it all, this selective use of the CBI.

To me the biggest gain of Anna Hazare's movement is that it will put the perspective back in the right place. Corruption may not go overnight, but it will be worked against in two ways thanks to this movement. One, the fear of public backlash for any government on this issue which saw such unprecedented support, would keep them on their toes. The Bill itself may deter and scare the corrupt and hopefully seal their escape routes if caught. Most importantly to me, it has educated many common people on the evils of participating in corruption. All those who waved flags, walked in rallies, may not find it very easy to give bribes now. A new thought might have crept into many people, that maybe we are to blame for this. Maybe we should be careful with how we deal with this problem at our individual level, we should be careful whom we vote for. That maybe we should be more honest, transparent and accountable ourselves and not bribe our way through. To me it has made people more aware of their own role in the process and that is a great start.

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