Seven Myths about Public Corruption
by Kush Kant”
MYTH 1: THE GOOD PEOPLE MYTH
“People in power here are bad. We need good people to govern.” “If only a few honest people could be elected, corruption will disappear.”
“Lack of good people” is a myth because to this day humans do not possess a method to identify “good people”. Which is why, organizationally speaking, we start with the assumption that ALL people are prone to corruption when given the opportunity.
Research done, even in “developed countries,” reveals only ten percent people are “naturally” honest. Which means 90 percent of people will take advantage of the situation if given the opportunity? To implement this we will first have to find “good people” and then put them in every position of public responsibility! We know such a proposal is ridiculous especially where basic systems are broken or simply do not exist.
What is a “system?” To understand the “system” concept consider a retail business that has many retail outlets — also called a “chain-store.” Each outlet of a chain-store has multiple departments and employs hundreds of people. Do the owners of chain-stores depend on personal honesty of a few good people? Of course, not. What keeps employees “honest” are the inner and outer controls built into the system. A mulit-retail store system has elaborate procedures (rules). Everyone must follow those procedures. Employees who do not follow procedures are quickly fired because violation of system rules leads to system failure which, in turn, ensures the business cannot survive.
If a chain-store depends on a system to stay in business, then what makes us think GOVERNMENT — a large entity with multiple departments – can operate corruption free without core government systems?
CONCLUSION: Exactly like successful private management, public governance depends on systems not personalities. Obsession with politicians and blaming them will solve nothing. Instead, knowledgeable people should be asking:
“What is wrong with the system?”
In the absence of systems (controls, rules, and procedures), the politicians have no reason to be “honest.” They and their accomplices will take advantage of public trust and exploit the situation for their personal gain.
Recap: Leaving the running of any large organization to personal “honesty” is a fatal flaw. When it comes to management of governments, it is foolish to “trust” politicians and then blame them when that trust is breached? Remember corruption happens where ever and when ever the system provides opportunity.
Solution: Repeat this mantra: “IT IS THE SYSTEM STUPID!” Modernize the basic systems of government. Where the system allows politicians opportunities to steal and misuse authority, replacing politicians will do nothing. What is needed is a systemic change.
For further discussion read SYSTEM CHANGE.
MYTH 2: CORRUPTION IS EVERYWHERE
So often heard: “Corruption exists in every country and every walk of life in one form or another. Very subtle in developed countries but out in the open in poor countries.”
“Corruption is everywhere,” is another meaningless truism. First, two wrongs do not make one right. Second, this fatalistic truism negates efforts to end corruption.
As pointed out in “Myth One” wherever there are humans, and whenever opportunity is presented, humans are bound to take advantage. A good system is built with this assumption that most humans will steal when they know nothing is going to happen to them. That “corruption is every where, where ever there are humans” has a second part: Humans can be prevented from freely indulging in corruption by installing effective systems.
Conclusion: Corruption is preventable. Does not mean no occurrences of corrupt behavior will ever occur. No. What we know for sure is, corruption is controllable where proper systems are in place. Every country is capable of installing systems that prevents corruption opportunities.
Whether some like it or not, corruption is in control in many countries. People are not being openly asked for bribes, or harassed, and public money is NOT being looted before the very eyes of the owners, the people.
We do not have to accept corruption. It is not that big a problem as it seems in countries where basic systems are not in place or they have not been modernized.
MYTH 3: BLAME THE PEOPLE
This myth is accepted by remarks such as:
“We ourselves are to be blamed”.
“Corruption will be eradicated only when we, the people, wake up and realize that we are the ones who fuel and allow it to exist!”
“People get what they deserve.”
“A poor and illiterate electorate can be bought, fooled and patronised by a corrupt/criminal politician – so its evolution – we get the govt we deserve collectively – as the electorate becomes less poor and more educated they will demand more from their elected representatives – better governance, better behaviour, better calibre, better integrity…”
This myth falsely presupposes that voters have a proactive role in choosing politicians and government officials. This myth unjustly blames voters as if people have a role in choosing candidates running for political office. In India, all political parties are run by party bosses. These bosses thrust candidates upon the people. No political party has open primary elections to elect candidates. How can people then be blamed? Candidates are “nominated” or just given the “ticket” to run for office. It is foolish to blame the “public” when the system does not allow entry of any real “peoples” candidate.
ELECTION, in a closed system, is used to legitimize a political party’s illegitimate candidates. The political parties use voting to legitimize their corrupt party games. Elections are fooling the people into thinking they are actually “electing” when in reality the voters are merely endorsing what the party bosses have chosen.
Above all politicians want people to blame themselves and NOT them! If you are contemptuously blaming the people, you are strengthening corruption because politicians, and their collaborators the bureaucrats, want blame to be deflected from them. If you want to see real change stop bashing the people. It is another self-destructive truism that solves nothing.
Solution:1. Prohibit closed intra-party systems. Members and voters, should have full say in electiing party candidates running for office. 2. People need financial accounting of all political parties. The people have a right to know the sources of funding of political parties and how party funds are managed.
The Election Commission must make new rules and standards such as:
1. Recognize no political parties that do not have an open system of intra-party elections. Because ultimately political parties thrust their candidates on the people, the people have the right to participate in all intra-party elections. Do not put names on ballot of candidates who have been “nominated” rather than elected in a fair primary intra-party election.
2. Financial accounting: The funding of all political organizations should be a matter of public record.
3. Disallow formation of political parties without the consent of a significant portion of registered voters. There should be requirements to get “approval” from a certain percentage of voters. Today, political parties do not have to get any input from voters. Anyone can form a political party by getting a name and “registering” it with the Election Commission.” This practice must end.
MYTH 4: “DEVELOPING COUNTRY – GIVE IT TIME MYTH”
This myth blames time! The propogators of this myth assert it is simply wrong to compare a “developing country” with a developed nation. “Why are you comparing my country with, for example, United States?” The United States democracy is over 300 years old whereas ours is only 60 years.” Give it time and corruption will disappear.
This myth betrays ignorance of the development of democracy and modernization of governments.
The fact is crime and corruption was very much alive in the U.S. and other countries well until the Second World war. In fact, most countries did not modernize government systems until the late seventies. What made governments efficient was technology especially the advent of computers. Without computer technology it was impossible to have internal financial and other controls necessary to run corruption free government.
Modernization of governments did not just happen with time. It is a very recent phenomena.
It is sad that while the U.S. companies are taking advantage of Indian computer firms, the Government of India is sleeping. Not only is the government sleeping, even the Indian Computer firms are oblivious of the fact that at least a trillion dollar market sits right at their doorstep while they look for business overseas!
Coming back to debunking this “time” myth. Corruption does not disappear automatically with the passage of time. A corrupt democracy does not all of a sudden or gradually becomes free of corruption.
SOLUTION: MODERNIZE governments at Central, State, and Local level. Modernization happens through professionalizing and technology. The good news here is that India is not that far behind when it comes to professionalism and technology in government. Present day professionalization and “technologization” in government is a recent phenomenon even in most developed countries. In fact, the countries that modernized governments in the sixties and seventies used expensive technologies. The cost of the same technologies has now come down dramatically making it affordable to all.
The bottom line is professionalism and technology in government are not optional. They are a requirement without which government cannot function and do its duty to the people. In 21st Century technology is no longer only for “richer countries.” Perhaps the corrupt in the government like to continue this myth because they know technology, with its impersonal, fool proof systems, actually takes away opportunities for corruption.
MYTH 5: MAKE ANOTHER “LAW” APPOINTING A STRONGMAN
That another “law” such as the Jan Lokpal Bill will curb corruption is the latest myth. It is a myth because before you make a “law” you first need to consider:
1.) Whether the new “law” is legal i.e. constitutional; 2.) If it is legal how is it going to be implemented and enforced?
1. On the first point, please see the main page here. People who are supporting the proposed Jan Lokpal Bill are under the wrong impression that the legislature (Lok Sabha) can make any “law” it pleases. Simply not true. Even the legislature is bound by the constitution. One does not have to be a constitutional scholar to conclude that any attempt to create a fourth branch of government has to be unconstitutional.
2. Even if it is assumed the Jan Lokpal Bill is legal, it raises many questions: Who will watch the Jan Lokpal? Is this the most efficient, long-term way to solve the problem of corruption?
Corruption is nothing but a law enforcement problem. The question is who enforces the criminal laws on behalf of the Central government? The real weakness here, not in the law, but law enforcement. Yes, the illegal laws that provide virtual immunity to politicians and their collaborators against prosecution for corruption, must be overturned. The fundamental problem in India is that of law enforcement. For example, all developed democracies have something equivalent to the Ministry of Justice or the Department of Justice with a designated, independent authority called the Attorney General, to enforce criminal laws.
Therefore, instead of creating a needless fourth branch of the government what India should create is a Ministry of Justice. As said on the main page the best model to emulate is Canada.
Be that as it may, the basic problem why corruption is rampant in India is because for some unknown reason politicians and their accomplices the bureaucrats have cleverly made themselves immune to law. The basic principle of Democracy, the RULE OF LAW, meaning no one is above the law, has been cleverly circumvented by the politicians.
WHO IS MINDING THE STORE? In India, short answer is NO ONE. The outdated law enforcement system inherited by the British was neither expanded nor modernized. The results are before us.
SOLUTION:In a democracy law enforcement is the duty of the executive branch. The Chief Law Enforcement Officer, commonly called the Attorney Genereal, is provided the independence and resources to investigate and file charges against the wrongdoers. In doing so the Attorney General does not need “permission” from the Prime Minister or any minister. The guilt is decided by the courts.
Law enforcement is a joint effort between all three branches of the government. The legislature provides the financial resources. The executive provides competent personnel, technology, and facilities. The Judiciary makes sure it has competent judges who know the law and are able to provide justice with due process and impartiality.
The Jan Lokpal attempt is an ignorant attempt. What is needed is a knowledgeable attempt to truly reform a broken system.
MYTH 6: BLAME IT ON DEMOCRACY – DICTATORSHIP OR ONE-PARTY FASCISM IS BETTER
This myth blames democracy per se. “Democracy is no good.” “We need a strong dictator.” (Singapore, the city state, is often given as current example.) China is another example where “progress” has outpaced India because “we have democracy, while they do not.” Lastly, some even say the British Raaj was much better than the post-independent India.
This is a myth because democracy does not automatically leads to good government. Elected politicians are not government. Elected politicians are supposed to guide government and dictate overall public policy and allocate resources to public programs. All of that presupposes that basic government systems exist. The basic government systems are dependent on technology and professionals, not on politicians. In fact, politician know nothing about day-to-day running of government.
Here instead of stupidly blaming democracy, just look around and see how other democracies have handled this problem
Other democracies have handled this problem of the politicians by kicking out politics from fundamental systems of a government. Whereas in India the politician wrongly thinks they are in-charge of everything and indeed have a “right” to meddle with everything government.
Of course not, Mr. (or Ms.) Politician. You have no right to meddle with the basic systems of government. The basic systems such as records, accounting and budgeting, procurement, and personnel.
All successful democracies have removed “politics” from basic governance. Who said that politicians in a democracy have absolute power? Who says that a so-called “Minister” can run a government department like his personal fiefdom? Who says that a “minister” can do whatever he/she. pleases?
That a Minister has absolute power is not a democratic concept. It actually is a very colonial concept. In the British raaj, the British guy in-charge enjoyed a lot of power because the British executive system was NOT based on principles of democracy. Whereas a democracy is based on the principle of RULE OF LAWwhich in turn means LIMITED EXECUTIVE POWER BASED ON RULES THAT LIMIT AUTHORITY.
For Krishna’s sake do not blame democracy if you do not know how executive authority in a democracy is established and executed!
There is no such thing as unlimited or absolute power in a democracy. In a democracy no one, be it an elected Politician or an appointed government manager, can exercise authority unless explicitly spelled out in form of a law or valid legal procedure.
Whereas in today’s India the politician thinks he is free to do anything he or she pleases.
That is not DEMOCRACY but a distortion of democracy.
MYTH 7: BLAME POVERTY
Of all the Myths listed above, this is the lamest. Poverty has never affected the Central Government of India (CGOI). Except for some state governments — Bihar State being the most proverbial — most State governments, as well as Metropolitan cities, have had no lack of revenues.
Lack of vision, gross public mismanagement, lack of planning and apathy toward technology/professionalism does not spring from “poverty.” Never heard of beggars running such large entities called government!
Lack of resources borne out of “poverty” has never been a problem in India. Yes, corruption, mismanagement, and sheer ignorance is. Therefore, quit using poverty as an excuse for mismanagement and shameless corruption in government.