Is there a way to build a corruption-free society?
Indian-American economist Avinash Dixit, in his journal article titled "How business community institutions can help fight corruption," suggests that initiatives from the private sector may be even more effective and prompt in combating corruption. If the investors can unite and just choose to not pay bribes under any circumstance, they would be able to get things done by bureaucrats without the bribes. While initially, they might have to wait for a substantial amount of time, eventually, there would be no delays.
Ancient Indian polymath Kautilya in his Arthashastra allegorically said, "It is impossible to know when a fish moving in water is drinking it. In the same way, it is impossible to find out when government servants in charge of undertakings misappropriate money." Then he suggested that we wean fish off water. By this, Kautilya meant that we must remove the dishonest government officials from the service.
These propositions raise the question, what must we really do to build a corruption-free society?
In 1962, Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri appointed K Santhanam to lead a committee during an anti-corruption move. The Santhanam committee carried out an investigation on corruption in India. After the investigation, they suggested some remedial measures, which can be incorporated into the present day.
Decision-making procedures must be made much simpler and shorter to expedite economic activities. Remunerations of civil servants at the lower end must be increased to an amount by which they can survive without indulging in illegal practices for extra earnings; additionally, their economic and social status must be elevated so that honest youths are attracted to these jobs. Furthermore, the discretionary powers of the people holding public offices must be decreased to the minimum.
Besides, vigilance agencies and forces must be formed of experts, against whom there is no question about their integrity. These agencies are to be made truly independent by law. The penal code and law-enforcement procedures must be made stricter, and easily applicable, and punitive measures must be made neutral and prompt.
Not only the public servants but also private sector workers who offer bribes must be punished, while costs, revenues, profits and tax reports must be made public. For example, a contractor who receives the contract to build a bridge must be under legal obligation to write down every component of costs, revenues, and profits. By the law of "right to information," any citizen of the country should be able to check the authenticity of these reports by asking for evidence and by comparing the costs with prevailing market prices.
Business enterprises must be strictly prohibited from subscribing to political parties, and doing so must be made a punishable crime. And people who report unlawful activities to government departments must be protected.
Tax evasion is a big problem in Bangladesh. Evaders mainly adopt three strategies: they do not reveal the total income, they hire a firm to manipulate incomes and show the amount to the lowest, or they collude with the tax inspector.
The third case involves a government official, so the government must prevent it. To do so, it can introduce information and monitoring technology. Greater automation, use of GPS, mandatory video recording meetings with taxpayers, CCTV, and computerised cross-matching system would prevent tax inspectors from distorting information and taxpayers from evading taxes. In all cases, the law must be stricter for tax evaders, with provisions of serious punishment.
The precondition for building a corruption-free state is building a corruption-free society, and building a corruption-free society is never possible if the individuals belonging to the society are devoid of honesty, pro-social preferences and a sense of right and wrong. Corruption is a symptom of a sick society, where people suffer from moral degradation. What can we do to prevent moral degradation? We need an education system that imparts moral education.
A lot is said about moral education, but what is not taught in schools is the spirit of a collective life. All over the world, prevailing education systems mostly promote the market economy, of which competition is the main characteristic. The people who have formulated such an education system have forgotten that it is not competition but cooperation that is the lifeblood of civilization.
Public sentiment against corruption and a culture of looking down upon the corrupt people must be built. Organisations, media and individuals contributing to forming public sentiments against corruption must be honoured nationally. In light of Avinash Dixit's findings, every individual in the society must boycott not only corrupt government officials but also businesspeople who make money through illicit means. Through these means, one may hope of one day witnessing a corruption-free society.
Dr NN Tarun Chakravorty is a visiting professor of economics at Siberian Federal University, Russia and editor-at-large at South Asia Journal.
Views expressed in this article are the author's own.
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