are more god-fearing than most other cultures, and we still
have strong families and peer pressure to moderate our behaviour.
But the institutions of state no longer have the capacity
to promote honesty and curb corruption.
societies now regarded as very honest have faced phenomenal
corruption in modern times. Britain, by all accounts, is
an honest society. And yet, in the middle of the 19th century
parliamentary office was often sold by the constituents
to the highest bidder! Then came the great liberal, Gladstone,
who transformed the British political and governance institutions
and laid the foundations of modern state. As Gladstone famously
said, the purpose of a government is to make it easy for
people to do good, and prevent them from doing evil. When
the governance and political institutions fail, corruption
grows. In the US too, machine politics, nepotism, graft
and abuse of authority were endemic several decades ago.
Systematic efforts to build institutions of state, institute
checks and balances and enforce rule of law dramatically
improved the situation.
by nature are not corrupt. Indians conform to rules and
become model citizens when they live abroad. Neither the
people, nor their values have changed; they simply adapt
to an environment which rewards good behaviour and punishes
bad behaviour. In India, we have built an environment which
does the exact opposite: rewarding bad behaviour consistently
and extravagantly, and often penalising good behaviour!
certainly tends to corrupt people. Abuse of authority is
a natural propensity in all societies. And people submit
to such abuse and rent-seeking because they have no realistic
options. Often the cost of resistance to corruption is disproportionately
higher than the likely benefit accused. It is difficult
to be heroic while obtaining a birth certificate of your
daughter. And it is well neigh impossible to resist demands
for extortionary demands if your daughter is under a surgeon's
knife in a government hospital! It is absurd to blame citizens
who are victims of extortionary corruption. Very few people
collude in corruption and benefit from it. Such behaviour
is seen in all societies, and we need strong institutions
and a governance system which promotes honesty.
India, honesty and survival in elective office are increasingly
incompatible. A politician is often compelled to choose
between integrity and power. Centralized bureaucracy, lifetime
job security, and virtual immunity from punishment make
public servants callous and corrupt. Tardy, inefficient
and inaccessible justice, and absence of instruments of
accountability make punishment for corruption difficult.
need to increase the risks of corruption to unacceptably
high levels, and enhance rewards for good conduct. Comprehensive
electoral reform including proportional representation,
funding reform, and direct election of head of government
in states, substantial decentralization and empowerment
of local governments, measures for speedy and efficient
justice and instruments of accountability will radically
alter the risks and rewards and promote honesty. Not too
long ago we had to pay bribes for a train reservation or
telephone connection. Computerization and competition eliminated
corruption in both. The trick is in promoting competition
and building better institutions; not lamenting about values