CORRUPTION affects image badly and is a burning topic of discussion among people of various strata of the society -- intellectuals, enlightened citizens, honest civil servants or anybody else. This menace has spread to every nook and corner of the country and to every service rendering outlet -- government offices, educational institutions, private organisations or business houses. In some cases it has also been institutionalised. It seems it is just the order of the day and the victims are the innocent and helpless ordinary people.
In the fifties and sixties, in case of government organisations, corruption was wide- spread only in a few departments/offices and in others it was either not there at all or was limited to lower categories of staff where small amounts of money changed hands. Public servants of middle and higher levels were free from it. But those departments can no longer boast of that situation these days as newspaper and other reports are pointing fingers at them. That small amount of money has become big and the menace has moved upwards. In some cases it is the reverse; it comes down straight from the top. This is alarming and unfortunate. It is high time now to make do soul searching, try to find the root cause and take appropriate steps to curtail this erosion of values with a view to at least limiting it at a certain level. The strategy should be limitation and not elimination because, realistically, though it is unfortunate, under the prevailing social, economic and other conditions, complete elimination will remain a pious dream for many more years before becoming true.
Right from British period up to the recent past, some organisations could boast of having a comparatively cleaner track record so far as corruption was concerned. This was possible due to the dedication, integrity and honesty of the majority of the people who ran the day-to-day activities of these organisations. Many bright people from the audit profession occupied high government positions in the past. And in recent years also, its contribution is significant and substantial. Being a quasi-judicial function, audit is shouldering the responsibility of reinforcing financial discipline, maintaining transparency and accountability quite admirably.
Similarly, the education sector, particularly universities, also produced many distinguished scholars and luminaries whom the whole nation is proud of. Education is the base of everything as it creates the right type of persons fit to serve people and humanity best. However, some disturbing news is heard these days about both sectors, which needs to be addressed to maintain their glorious past record. In other sectors, the situation is worse but it is outside the purview of this article.
Image is the driving force behind satisfactory completion of an activity, whether it is individual or collective. Teachers in the universities and other educational institutions will fail to get respect from students and guardians if they have image problem. Same is true with those passing judgments, maintaining law and order, earning revenue or protecting people's money by preventing misuse, fraud, forgery or other irregular activities in the financial sector through audit. A less efficient but honest government servant is preferable to a dishonest, efficient one because the latter can be very dangerous in critical moments. So, organisations concerned should go all out to identify the reasons behind the problem, find a solution and implement it on a priority basis, thereby checking this downward slide.
Logically, next comes the ways and means which can help improve the situation. The first and foremost step required is to ensure recruitment of right type of people for the job, nurturing them properly and putting them to work with proper remuneration and other facilities. Corruption cannot be eliminated by sermons only; it should be coupled with proper salary also in case of government employees, which will prevent them from going in the wrong direction. This single step, if successfully implemented, can change the whole scenario completely. However, it is easy to say so but very difficult to do due to large scale undesired intervention from powerful pressure groups. This can be achieved only with adequate government support, which should be actual and not lip service.
A recent television talk-show, relating to scam in the public sector banking, brought it up nicely. A high-up in the government tried to find excuses for so much looting of money from so many banks, saying that the large number of branches without adequate supporting technological facilities required for proper monitoring was the reason behind the corruption. He totally ignored the placement of political persons with little banking knowledge but good links with people in power. But another learned retired senior bank official countered it saying that in India, where social and other conditions are similar to our country, banks are functioning properly with number of branches many times more than ours and similar technological facilities, but no corruption took place there. This is because no Indian government, whether it is Congress or BJP, ever put a political personality with little banking experience at the helm of affairs of a bank, big or small. Interestingly that high-up from the government side had no answer to it.
The second important step needed is giving appropriate salary to the employees, which should be sufficient to maintain their families. Corruption may be contagious also. If two persons, with similar qualification and expertise but different income levels, live side by side, with passage of time one with lesser income is tempted to be corrupt to a great extent being unable to maintain his family needs like the other. This may sound ridiculous to an idealist, but is a reason, which should not be ignored altogether, to a realist. To address this, there should be a permanent pay commission for government servants which will adjust their salaries with cost of living. The silver lining is that the government has already established one recently. Now, it should be made really functional and effective.
The third step required is strengthening of moral values of employees through dissemination of religious dos and don'ts among employees, or by encouraging strict adherence to moral and ethical values. However, in a majority of people, fear of hell acts as a good vaccine and prevents ill motives from being executed. It is hoped that implementation of above steps will definitely help to check erosion of image of the organisations concerned.
The writer is Retd. Deputy Comptroller and Auditor General (Senior), Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of Bangladesh.