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"If we address political corruption, we will be able to eliminate corruption in other areas"

Mar 10, 2011

The Executive Director of Transparency International, India, Anupama Jha talks to OneWorld South Asia about TI’s contribution in checking global corruption. A strong believer in democracy, she shares her views on the rampant corruption in India and explains how citizens can play a part in addressing the problem.

Anupama Jha.jpegOneWorld South Asia:  Please tell us about the work done by Transparency International India? How are you affiliated with Transparency International?

Anupama Jha: Transparency International (TI) India is the Indian chapter of Transparency International, the global coalition against corruption. We began our operations in India in 1997. TI, as you may be aware, is primarily known for the Corruption Perception Index (CPI), an annual study that ranks different countries by level of corruption, especially corruption within the government. The CPI is a survey of surveys, as surveys conducted by other multilateral agencies like the Africa Development Bank, Asia Development Bank, Bertelsmann Foundation are compiled together in CPI.

At the country level, we undertake a study on the level of corruption across various Indian states. We released the latest report in this series, called the India Corruption Study, in 2008, in which we studied the extent of corruption in 11 government services being provided in all Indian states. Shockingly, we found that the people living below the poverty line paid Rs. 9000 million as bribe to avail basic and need based services; services which they should have got for free. This includes services like water, electricity, NREGS, PDS, hospitals, banking and housing among others.

Apart from these studies we also work towards promoting better governance. For instance, we run an initiative called the ‘Integrity Pact’, which is basically a tool to check corruption in public procurement. The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) of India in 2007 issued a circular to all state owned public sector companies recommending that they consider adopting the Integrity Pact. The CVC, 39 state-owned companies and one Himachal Pradesh based company, partly owned by state and partly by the centre, have adopted the pact. This list contains influential names such as Coal India, ONGC, Oil India, BSNL, and MTNL.

Another tool we employ is the ‘Development Pact’ which is a negotiated agreement between deprived communities and their elected representatives. Through this initiative, we bring politicians and administrators who actually want to deliver on a common platform with the aam janta. Both parties are then given an opportunity to create a development agenda in a mutually agreeable manner. We piloted this project during the panchayat elections in select constituencies in Chattisgarh and in assembly elections in Bihar last year to good response.

As part of another campaign called ‘Pahel’, we promote good governance tools like RTI, social audit, e-governance and the citizens’ charter. We are presently working in 4 states of India, namely Chattisgarh, Bihar, Orissa and Jharkhand, where we have trained people in the use of these tools. We encourage them to file questions under RTI and then follow up with government officials to make sure they reply to the queries. In addition to RTI, we also file Public Interest Litigations (PIL) on various issues of public importance. Most recently, we have filed a PIL against a case of black money, which is being fought in court by eminent lawyer Mr Ram Jethmalani.

OWSA: Currently, India and the GOI are in news all over given the gargantuan scams being unearthed in the country one after the other. Is there a real, practical, doable way of addressing corruption in the country, which has today become a way of life?

AJ: Corruption always flows from top to bottom and if we are able to address political corruption then we will be able to reduce, if not eliminate, corruption in judiciary, bureaucracy and in any other sector. If those who lead us really want change, it will happen. And politicians can be made accountable by pressurizing them using the combined forces of the civil society and media.

It is important to realise that there is a supply side of corruption also. What we see today is that people are ready to pay bribes for the smallest tasks. People too, need to commit to not offering bribes. Secondly, they should report matters of corruption to the appropriate authorities instead of simply ignoring it. They may also write to us or inform us so that we can advise them on how to go about it. Citizens should utilise the RTI, should insist on a citizen’s charter. They should also insist on the creation of a free and fair social audit.

OWSA: How can investing in ICTs in governance or in administration reduce wastage, time and corruption?

AJ: I think ICTs can be a very viable tool to make governments and governance more accountable. Look at how e-governance has helped reduce the influence of middle men in services like the railways and passport delivery. Since ICTs reduce human contact, they also automatically help reduce chances of bribery and corruption. I do feel though that we haven’t exploited the potential of ICTs to a satisfactory extent. Perhaps, it will take more time.

OWSA: The TI also releases a Bribe Payers Index that measures the extent of bribery by countries when they do business abroad. So the same Germans, who value corporate integrity so much in their own country, don’t think twice about bribing their way to good projects in India. In fact, are even given tax-breaks by their governments to do so. How does one reconcile and address this fact?

AJ: Indeed. And why talk just about the Germans, India ranks 19th out of 22 countries in the index. This is why we hear sometimes that liberalisation has increased corruption. Surely! When companies find it difficult to deal with government officials, they bribe them to facilitate the process. This is an area of concern which needs to be checked. TI’s stand has always been that clean business is good business.

Businesses that can’t see the benefits of honest work, I feel, are being short sighted. Not only does it improve their investments, the profile and image of the company, stakeholders’ and employee morale, but also promotes a more just and benevolent society. For all these reasons, ethical governance is always the right way.

OWSA: Recently, many cities in India have witnessed public displays by ordinary citizens against corruption. How may such movements be encouraged further?

AJ: Such movements are quite the need of the hour. TI is also organising a two day conference on 17th and 18th March in Delhi, where we have invited leaders, thinkers and activists to examine the root cause of corruption and understand how it may be checked. More specifically we will focus on the issue of black money, recovery of stolen assets, and how to bring money back from different tax havens. I think there is much need for such deliberation and action. Not only does it act as an indicator that the people and the civil society are socially aware and concerned, but also puts pressure on politicians and other corrupt bodies to clean up their act. Time has come when all of us should join hands to remove this scourge once and for all, or I only see another Tahrir Square in India’s future.

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