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Feb 10, 2004
Why be afraid of TI?

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.

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