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  Why be afraid of TI?

The surveys on corruption in India by the Centre for Media Studies [CMS], are of greater relevance to our everyday life than the global ranking lists, that Transparency International [TI] publishes from time to time.

CMS’s method is to run an exit poll on citizens leaving government establishments. Those polled are typically close to the ground reality of India. TI on the hand, polls the ‘perceptions’ of businessmen visiting various countries in the course of their travels. We will study the significant differences in these approaches a little later.

CMS’s latest survey is based on a poll of 4500 people in five major cities of India. They were exiting departments and institutions of governments, like hospitals, ration shops, registrars, law courts, railways and so on.  Press Trust of India [PTI] quotes N Bhaskar Rao, Chairman of CMS, as saying, that compared with its similar poll in 2000, corruption has tended to decline. Based on responses to questions like, “did you get your work done the first time or did you have to revisit?”. “did you need a middleman?”, “did you bribe or use influence?”, “would you do something about corruption?”, “has corruption declined or increased?”, “who is responsible?” etc, CMS has drawn a picture of metropolitan India today. Rao says, “corruption is not as high as is often believed, and the reasons for this can be attributed to large-scale computerisation of services, reforms initiated by vigilance departments and the rise in awareness among the consumers.”

In the current survey, 28% admitted they have dealt through middlemen. That figure was 48% in 2000. 30% admitted to giving bribes, whereas in 2000, 51% had. In Hyderabad, the decline was from 63% in 2000, to 27% now. Chennai and Kolkata declined to 18% [-from 38%] and 19% [-from 51%]. In Delhi however, the figure grew from 40% to 49%.

The CMS surveys seem more relevant to our concerns. After all, TI tosses India, with its billion plus people, into one global heap, and then sifts and sorts the pile. As a result, Scandinavia, Australia and New Zealand hog the top in the rankings. Must not population, density and size of the economy be a factor in evaluating corruption? Studies like the CMS’s should be encouraged further, so that deeper state-wise surveys are conducted, and an intra-India list emerges. That would build a competitive mood between states.

Did not an exercise in fine-slicing India’s poverty numbers, reveal unsuspected facets? Have not the periodic lists of various states’ investment numbers, spurred local policy changes leading to greater growth? Likewise, would not annual corruption ranking of states too, help spur eGovernance that tend to lower corruption levels?

The brand image, slickness and reach of TI is such, that it has assumed an oracular status. Very few Indian commentators have bothered to question its techniques.  TI’s list hogs the main-stream media’s headlines. India’s rank as the corrupt country number this or that is bandied about and all that it does is end up depressing Indians. Seriously, how relevant is TI to the Indian reality?

It polls mostly businessmen. Most of them are likely to be executives of MNC’s, because it is they who stalk the world. Given their compulsion to increment results from one quarter to another, woudn’t they explore every ruse—as long as they get away without being caught? Significantly, TI observes that Enron, Halliburton, WorldCom and many other MNCs have bribed, lied and plundered for long. Given that, is TI transparent enough to state whether or not those companies’ executives were among those that were polled? It’s a crucial issue. After all, in bribery, it is usual for the giver to fancy himself as a blameless being.

Another reason that makes the TI reports lumpy, is the fact it makes no distinction between developed and developing nations. For instance, were the stars of TI’s current list, just as honourable and clean as they are reported to be today, when they were in the early days of MNC penetration? Unlikely. Emerging nations would merit appropriate ‘point-in-history handicaps’. Again, in nations with small populations, investment and growth opportunities may have ceased. And with that, room for corruption too.

In sum, the TI declarations are best ignored by Indians. We need to develop our own benchmarks. CMS’s surveys are better directed. Rather than react to numbers slapped on us by itinerant businessmen, under the auspices of TI, we should take heart from the fact, that computerisation of public services, is beginning to make an impact. An effort like this which tracks the progress of eGovernance projects in India, should be ranked higher than TI’s endeavours.

As cited