Story link:



  More transparent, less international

Periodic release of its global corruption ranking by Transparency International [TI], is always attended by media animation in India. TI’s brand image and the totemic heads it chooses as country heads, automatically grants it uncritical acceptance. Using TI’s findings, social commentators, chat show hosts and parlour pundits proceed to maim the already demoralised section of upright Indians. The culpable sections of course take little notice.

In an article in Feb,2004 [ “Why be afraid of T!?” ] GoodNewsIndia had attacked TI’s loftiness and irrelevance. For example:

◊1-TI lumps town-sized populations like Finland, Norway and Iceland - which can conceivably be well-administered, so to speak, using a home PC and a team of ten- with sprawling populous countries like India, Brazil, Russia, China and the USA. Within these again, some are open societies and others are of varying degrees of opacity. TI then ranks these apples and oranges in one oracular list.

◊2-GoodNewsIndia’s greater wrath was due to TI’s approach to quantifying ‘corruption perception’: it polled itinerant global businessmen. Of course it is common to use lock-pickers to evaluate security, but the approach took no consideration of people’s daily experiences; it only gave an idea of corruption in high places.

◊3- GoodNewsIndia questioned if all countries can be treated alike without allowing for their location in development time line. For example, the US and Western Europe have waded out of muds of their own, and come clean in the last 5 or so decades. You can’t compare them with developing societies still in their quagmire. There ought to be sub-lists lists and rankings.

The Centre for Media Studies [CMS], New Delhi has been quietly addressing all these issues. Lauding CMS’s methodology, the GoodNewsIndia article suggested that we pay its findings greater attention and none to that of TI. CMS polled ordinary citizens in five cities for their experiences with day to day corruption. Surprisingly, CMS found that people’s perception of commonplace corruption was that it was lower than in the previous two years.

Since then CMS has published its latest report ["India Corruption Study 2005” downloadable as a PDF file from this link.]. In a delicious turn of events, TI has now backed CMS. Hopefully TI has given up polling visiting businessmen to pass judgment on India. While taking no credit for this welcome development, GoodNewsIndia hopes that in its time, TI will fine-tune its ranking system to correct the anomalies pointed out earlier.

TI’s hefty funding -Rs.60 lakhs- has enabled CMS to cast its current study wider. “India Corruption study is the largest corruption survey ever undertaken in the country with a sample of 14,405 respondents spread across 20 states. From each State about 525 - 950 respondents were interviewed. The survey covered 151 cities and 306 villages.” Its findings therefore cannot be compared with its earlier study. Understandably, given the canvas size, perception of corruption is high. What trends are afoot will be known when the next comparable survey is published. The current study is therefore a new base line.

But there are many encouraging trends:

◊4- Penetration of open information systems as in railway ticketing and telephones has eliminated almost all day to day corruption.

◊5- Division of states,leading to smaller states like Himachal, Jharkhand and Chattigarh has resulted in the perception there is reduced corruption.Clearly population size matters. This reinforces the Point-1 made earlier.

◊6- Privatisation alone doesn’t lead to less corruption or greater efficiency as Delhi’s experience with electricity distribution shows. What is required is true competition not mere privatisation. [T S Ninan has however persuasively argued in his “Business Standard” column, that even in Delhi, public outcry and political response to it would not have been possible earlier; but that’s another story.]

◊7- Even the weak-kneed Freedom of Information law [-to be replaced by the very promising Right to Information Law next month.] has had some success in increasing transparency.

The CMS study focused on eleven public services in all: six services for which citizens had no choice [Police, Judiciary, Municipal authorities, Income Tax, Farmers’ financial services, and land administration] and found corruption much higher in these than in five services for which citizens had alternate avenues [Public distribution system, schools, hospitals, electricity and water]. The study removed railway ticketing and telephones from its purview as not worth evaluating for corruption anymore.

In an object lesson to glossy magazines that plump their pages with polls on most beautiful women, best restaurants, stylish cities, best B-schools -and of late, even best social workers-, CMS has ranked states according to corruption perception. There are few surprises here but this list is of greater use than TI’s that compares Norway with Zambia. As more CMS reports follow, these rankings will be cited and induce better performance.

In another refreshing innovation, CMS polled the service provider also. The Income Tax department for example said, that most of the corruption is because the average citizens -not just the big fish- wanted to conceal income. The judicial staff said, litigants wanted adjournments, delays, favourable judgments and so on. Municipal staff thrive because builders want deviations to be ignored and home-owners want taxes to whittled. The point is clear: most of us have some blame to own up to. It is not simply, extortion by the system.

There are significant lessons to learn in the CMS study for reformers and political opponents to true competition. That is why it is more creative than TI’s moralistic loftiness. CMS has showed what reforms have worked: information technology and legislation, smaller-sized states and true competition.

More of the same, is called for. Because the road ahead is long and full of great odds. The CMS study restricted itself to only everyday corruption and ignored grand larceny in high places. Even without that, CMS says, “Common citizens of the country pay a bribe of Rs. 21,068 crores while availing one or more of the eleven public services in a year.  As high as 62 percent of citizens think that the corruption is not a hearsay, but they in fact had the firsthand experience”.

As cited