The Anti-Corruption Bureau in Andhra Pradesh has been active of late targetting certain corrupt Officials whose riches are baffling the imagination of the public.

It is also raising questions how the system allowed such people to amass huge wealth unnoticed for so long; or, is it a much bigger issue of the links going right up to the top in the administration and political system and people turning a blind eye even after they are in know of things? In fact, it is the second part which is the truth. It is not the lack of knowledge about the corrupt activities of these high-profile individuals, but they are part of a system with links right up to the top.

The issue of corruption of late is getting discussed in all institutions of the State and the Cancer of Corruption does not seem to have spared  any institution. At a very micro level, lot of us feel corruption as a lubricant which oils the system to run. When you are faced with a problem of securing building permission, clearance or licence, your focus is on securing that particular benefit.

People would not mind spending certain amount to get those benefits. This is so because we have woven a web of laws, rules, procedures and forms in the guise of fixing accountability which makes public administration a jungle, making Indian bureaucracy a labyrinth to wade through which one needs support of touts, fixers, corporate lobbyists and influence peddlers – a small-time stringer to a newspaper in a muffisil area to Neera Radias at the highest level.

As long as they are able to get things done for a price, we look it at as a healthy lubricant getting things done. But the problem with corruption is not so much about those who take the bribe and do the things, but its effect on honest and the sincere who hesitate to take decisions for being attributed with motives  wherever discretion is available.

This aspect was highlighted way back by Gunnar Myrdal in his Asian Drama, where he mentioned the problem with corruption is more how it prevents honest people from taking the right decisions for fear of being attributed motives. Over a period, such officers are dubbed as negative and sidelined.  The way our anti-graft acts are drafted also prohibits an honest officer from taking the right decision using his discretion.

Under the act, though a lot of issues look normal for taking a decision at a particular point of time, it is always possible to dig out reasons and attribute motives at a different point of time. The anti-graft acts vest too much power in investigating agencies, putting all the onus of proving that one is innocent on the officer concerned.

In fact, it should be the other way round, putting onus on the investigating officers to do a thorough investigation rather than allowing them to go ahead and make out a flimsy case and leave it to the person to defend himself. The way some of the heads of premier investigating agencies have come under cloud shows how the anti-graft acts have vested huge powers in the people of questionable integrity for such a long time.

This raises questions whether the investigating agencies by themselves can be trusted with responsibility of a fair and objective investigation or an unscrupulous political leader can use these institutions to fix up officers who are inconvenient to him.

Today if there is one major social evil which affects public administration adversely, it is the corruption in the system. What can be perceived at a micro level as a lubricant for getting things done has in fact become a cancer in the system affecting all institutions and systems.

It not only results in honest officers not taking the right decisions for fear of attribution of motives but also builds up a network of corrupt individuals within the system who protect each other and to that extent making the honest irrelevant and powerless.

But can we really eliminate corruption totally? I do not think total elimination of corruption is neither possible nor worth attempting.  A better and more practical alternative is to eliminate discretion at all levels to the extent possible, thus denying the opportunities for corruption.

Simplification of process and procedures along with usage of information technology can hold the key to achieve this. This is the only way one can fight the cancerous growth of corruption in the system. 

Simultaneously, the anti-graft agencies should be made more accountable and thorough in their investigations. The vast powers they are armed with – which are more often used as instruments of harassment and fixing of officers inconvenient to political masters – should be curtailed.

All this would need a non-corrupt positive leadership in the political system. That as on date is asking for the moon. So we may have to live with PAIRAVIKARS to corporate lobbyists to “get things done” as things stand. (Writer is former Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh)

Tags: Corruption