IS there political will in the executive and legislative branches for fighting corruption? Have political parties prioritised corruption as a major platform? What is the government’s main purpose and motivation behind establishing an anti-corruption authority (ACA)? Or is this government’s political response to pressure and a crisis. An incumbent regime may face pressures generated by a scandal or by negative public opinion of corruption in government. Domestic pressures might come from opposition parties and social movements. External pressures may arise from foreign investors, powerful trading partners, the international financial institutions or international donors calling for reform.
The “constitutional moment” of establishing an ACA is critically important. This means capturing the momentum created by scandal and crisis, gaining consensus on a reasonably clear and realistic strategy, and mobilising the resources to implement it.
Recently, a new trend has emerged, which is most dangerous to the existence of our democracy. The UPA government is cracking down on people who raise the issue of action against corruption. The UPA government has adopted strategy to crush civil society groups and other anti-corruption movements, by tarnishing their public image through misleading propaganda. Baba Ramdev’s movement was crushed in a midnight swoop. Anna Hazare’s movement was also tried to be crushed through malafide campaigns against individuals associated with the movement. The anti-corruption movement leaders are being denied their rights for a peaceful agitation. They only want that systematic corruption at the political level should end. For this, they prepared an anti-corruption bill “Lokpal”. The government has prepared another bill which the civil society group term as “Jokepal”. The government in its arrogance has said that the Parliament will decide the final shape of the bill.
There is no doubt that Parliament has the last word in creating, approving or rejecting a law. But you cannot rubbish the concerns of citizens. After all, it is they who face brunt of corruption. There is a strong inverse correlation between civil society liberty and corruption. The free flow of information on the acts of government and authorities and on public financial flows, as well as on the assets and incomes of high government officials allows a constant control and supervision by the citizens through civil society organisations, increasing the general accountability of the system.
Therefore, the Parliament has a high responsibility to give the nation an institutional framework that will bring to an end this endemic malaise. It has the duty to legislate a system where citizens and companies can expect to receive public goods or services on the basis of their rights, their capacity of competing and their merits, rather than through bribery, kickbacks or nepotism.
The nation today does not want an attitude of complacency and fatalism towards corruption. People want an end to the day-to-day localised corrupt practices that they have to face. There is massive discontent about mega scams which enlarge the pain of deprivation for the masses. Any anti-corruption strategy has to focus on both.
Fight against black money
LK Advani, BJP veteran launched a campaign against black money stashed away in tax havens and talked about getting the ill-gotten money back home. He constituted a task force comprising reputed Chartered Accountant and fraud investigator, S Gurumurthy, economist Prof R Vaidyanathan, security specialist Ajith Doval and noted lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani to study this issue. The BJP adopted the task force report and today it has almost become a base document for a wide array: media, activists, government, bureaucrats and investigators.
The Supreme Court has set up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) in July 2011 which is headed by Supreme Court judges to investigate cases of black money. Sheepishly, the UPA government announced that a committee headed by CBDT chairman and consisting of senior officials from CBDT, Enforcement Directorate, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Currency unit and financial intelligence department, would look at ways to curb black money. The Finance Minister Pranab Mukherji stated that the government is negotiating with 97 countries to bring black money stashed overseas. Given its perfidious nature the UPA government has filed an application before the SC to review its decision of forming an SIT.
International movement to recover black money
Over the past year, a transnational identity of protest movement has been emerging, that of anti-corruption. In countries affected by what has now been come to be characterised as Arab Spring, corruption was the basis of popular uprisings and people were sufficiently furious to risk their lives in trying to overthrow the regimes in these countries. Civil society groups of Tunisia prevailed upon the Swiss government to freeze the millions belonging to President Ben Ali’s clan. In Libya, the first demands of the rebels in Benghazi, was for Europe and the US to freeze the assets of Muhammad Gadaffi and his family members. Egypt’s missing fortunes had a staggering impact in driving the great numbers at Tahrir square.
The message is simple: people will not tolerate the plunder of wealth by the ruling elite and they want their money back. All the countries mentioned above, did not have opposition parties; they all had authoritarian regimes; that is the reason why protest took the form of civil uprisings, sometimes even turning very violent.
Democracies are different. The task of taking on an errant and corrupt government is the job of the opposition parties. Traditionally the role of the opposition is to expose and oppose the acts of omission and commission of the government of the day. It is also to inform and educate the masses and hold out a better alternative.
Corruption is not good for democracy
Political parties should remember that corruption has multifaceted negative effects. It not only inflicts direct and indirect economic damages but it also undermines the democratic process, violates social justice and creates distrust in state institutions. Political corruption is the most harmful form of misbehaviour because it deprives the legislative branch from the necessary will and strength in fighting a phenomenon which might consequently spread throughout the social fabric. It also delegitimizes democratic institutions, putting in danger the basis of democracy.
Public anger against corruption
Unfolding of numerous scams under UPA, each one murkier than the one preceding it, has created an ecosystem of mass anger and revulsion. The Supreme Court has been unrelenting in hauling the government over coals for its various scandalous and corrupt deals. The BJP also as a principal opposition party led a strident onslaught. The BJP’s parliamentary performance, its blockade to force a JPC to investigate the 2G spectrum scam, its incisive stewardship of the public accounts watchdog committee created a deluge of public opinion against the government. The emergence and then coalescence of these protestations have found its mark. There is a great pressure on all parties to prove their credentials on the issue of corruption.
Duties of a Political Party
Corruption and factionalism are the two fundamental evils that any plan for honesty and probity in public affairs, should take head on. Parties must address both the symptoms and root causes of corruption. It should not dither while holding out punishments for the corrupt while rewarding those who are honest. Punishments will set in motion a preventive behaviour. Punishments will deter illegal activities, such as bribes and kickbacks, making party functionaries consider corrupt practices as extremely dangerous decisions with a very high cost/benefit ratio. The party leaders must intensify efforts to improve conduct, uphold integrity and combat corruption. Peer group assessments should be held to tackle image issues, if any, of important party functionaries.
The party members must put the people foremost in their minds, respect the people as masters and treat them as teachers. The party must bear in mind that the power is entrusted to them by the people and can only be used in their interests. In exercising power, it must serve the people, hold itself accountable to them, and readily subject itself to their oversight.
State funding of Political Parties
A political party, which is expected to be clean, should be financially independent to perform its democratic functions. Its dependence on either corporate or its outfits running the Governments in the State or at the Centre, is not a healthy practice. For this, the Government should provide Political Parties and their candidates the funds for their political activities.
Political money in the United States is often divided into two categories, “hard” money and “soft” money. “Hard” money is contributed directly to a candidate of a political party. “Soft” money is contributed to the political party as a whole for purposes of party building and other activities not directly related to the election of specific candidates.
A corruption free polity is a major moral presumption of democracy. Parties have to pristine in their conduct if they want to receive the loyalty of the masses.