Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's mantra on tackling corruption

Several stories of corruption have been in the news lately. Frankly, while most people are aghast at the revelations, I feel they have no reason to be. Am I being soft on corruption? No!

Let me explain. The truth is that corruption has been a part of Indian life for the last 100 or maybe 200 years. All of us are corrupt. Each and every one of us cuts corners and bribes our way thru. I remember the many times I would have bought train tickets by paying off an agent. Likewise the traffic cops. Just because these acts were relatively innocuous does not mean that they should be considered as less dangerous.

Actually, I am not being corrupt here. What I should say is that each one of us who is affluent and well to do is corrupt. The poor are not corrupt. They are the ones who pay for our corruption.

Someone I met recently from PwC told me that 80% of corruption happens (around the world) because of "system failure". This is true about corruption here also. Take the example of election funding. If it takes Rs 5 crores per candidate per election, we need nearly Rs 1 lac crore every 5 years. Almost all of this comes from corruption. Next take the salaries of powerful bureaucrats. Leave the cost of housing out (because the babu cannot take the housing with him after retirement). The most powerful babu's salary would probably be less than Rs 1 lac a month. Even an ordinary MBA with 5-7 years experience in the private sector earns that much. So how do we expect this babu to conduct himself? But the problem is that if we have to pay decently, then we need to reduce the head-count. Can we do that?

So why cant we fix these system issues? Simply because society as a whole does not have the guts to accept the reality. Its good to talk about how Singapore pays its PM the market rates.....but its not possible to practice the same here. Imagine if the PM earned Rs 30 crores salary and the Ministers earned Rs 10-15 crores each? If we paid this much, we could rightfully demand professional service. We could sack them for under-performance and corruption. But today, can we really expect this to happen?

I am thus suggesting the following: Forget the past. Everyone was corrupt in the past. This New Year, lets set a future data.....from which point we agree not to tolerate corruption. Lets say that that date is Jan 1, 2015. In the in-between 4 years, lets work on correcting the faulty systems that exist. Publicize this date from which India will adopt a "no corruption" policy. This is where media should play a critical nation-building role. It must educate the people about what changes are being made. Let no political party take advantage of the changing rules.

The only reason I am suggesting we work from a future date is because like I explained, each one of us has been corrupt in the past. "Unearthing" past corruption (as if it needed to be unearthed) depresses the sentiment in the country. We cannot afford that. We need everyone to be motivated and driven to achieve growth. All that we need to focus on is hit a 12% per annum growth rate for the next 2 decades. Lets keep the moral up. And lets clean up as we go along.

Our past is a shame. That's the real truth. Let our future not be so.


  1. Hi Prashant,

    I can debate on this till the cows come home. I have lived in Singapore and seen closely how the government functions. A person like Rabri Devi or Mayawati have no place even remotely connected to politics. The political candidates there are carefully chosen from the corporate sector and are real visionaries in their own right. When you have a team of visionaries leading the country, there is bound to be well thought of & well planned growth. Singapore with zilch resources is possibly the best country to live in. We, on the other hand have so many resources but clueless leaders driving the country.

    Media could play a strong role indeed, but Media is more corrupt than the politicians. What we really need is a Singapore style democracy...otherwise there is very little hope!!!

  2. See this is the problem. If you look around you, you will find EVERYONE to be corrupt. So what do we do? We just throw our hands up in the air and feel depressed? Or do we resolve to make things better. I think we have a lot of good men and women in politics. Its our job to support them. The first thing to do is to focus on growth and set a timetable to stop tolerating corruption from a future date.