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Inevitability of political corruption



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Please help make the Manifesto better, or accept it, and propagate it!
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Based on feedback from friends, the electoral funding - corruption nexus is
better (I think) established now. Check out (Word file, possibly with
virus) at 

http://www.indiapolicy.org/debate/notes.html

The file without the table is given below. In case the Word file has a
virus, pl. clean it up and send to me; I'll upload the clean one (also
holds for the NIT paper).

Views please! Else, action!!

THE INEVITABILITY OF POLITICAL CORRUPTION IN INDIA
                                                                     Dr.
Sanjeev Sabhlok, 20.6.2000
 
"Possessing representatives in any intellectual respect superior to
average", as Mill stated in his essay on Representative Government, is what
citizens aspire for when they go out to vote. We would all like our MLAs
and MPs to be at least men of ordinary prudence, intellectual and moral
honesty, and possessing attributes of dedication and easy approachability.
But do we in India face a real choice on the day of poll which might lead
to such an outcome? We live and experience a corrupt  democracy where the
choices are more often than not skewed toward those with serious
intellectual and moral deficiencies. Now, I do not believe that we have
magically come to live in this questionable form of democracy. I will try
to demonstrate presently how we have as citizens, actively, if unwittingly,
foisted this unfortunate constraint of choice on ourselves. 
A functioning democracy does not come for free. It requires enormous
expenditure of time and money to reach out to the people, to apprise them
about one's point of view and about one's commitment to the welfare of the
society, and once having been elected, to support the vast, primarily
illiterate, electorate that clamours for succour. It is not quite relevant
at the cutting edge whether one has a parliamentary or a presidential
system in India. What is critical is the society's understanding and
sympathy toward the opportunity cost of the operationalization of a real,
functional, democracy. The level of societal understanding and vigilance
ultimately determines the choices that emerge before the people on the day
of the poll, and thence the quality of our democracy. Today we have not
only become insensitive to corruption as a society, most of us are also not
quite aware about the causes of this chronic problem. I will try to show
that the major cause is corruption at the political level caused by
compulsions created by us as citizens.
 
1.	Wages and competence 
	 For someone with a more profitable opportunity set, it makes little sense
to indulge in electoral politics. We do not expect Premji of Wipro to spend
time running for electoral office, becoming an MLA, then a Minister,
touring villages and trying to make some alleged improvements in the lives
of ordinary people, when he can generate vast amounts of wealth and thus
welfare, for himself and the country through a more appropriate route.
Rationally speaking, therefore, only those who can potentially earn less
than what a Minister earns, join politics. Now, an average Minister
receives about Rs.10,000 per month as salary, and if his allowances are
added up he would receive not more than Rs.20,000 per month, which comes to
Rs.2.4 lakhs per year.  On the other hand, an MBA of ordinary ability from
an ordinary Indian university gets this much and more, at the outset of his
career today. It is apparent, therefore, that only those who cannot or
could not become MBAs, or doctors, or engineers, or such, would ordinarily
think of joining electoral politics as an occupation. To this we can add
retired folks who have secure pensions, and of course, those who enjoy the
challenge and rough and tumble, and often, the gamble, of electoral politics.
	Thus, by ensuring that salaries of our Ministers are well below what a
young man of ordinary ability in India can command at the commencement of
his career, our system attracts to politics primarily the intellectually
weak. One of the unintended consequences of this is that the bureaucracy,
being usually 'smarter' than most representatives, having been
competitively selected, and enjoying higher salaries than Ministers, is
often able to exploit loopholes in the system for its personal gain.

2.	Origin of corruption
Contesting elections is a very expensive hobby. Further, the law sets
unreasonable limits of all types, much on the pattern of the licence-quota
raj, and actively drives away transparency through its internal
contradictions. In the case of the parliamentary elections of 1999, I
carried out a simple analysis of the Shillong Parliamentary Constituency
based on information made available by the Deputy Commissioner, Shillong
under Rule 88 of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 the analysis is shown
in the following table:

 TABLE HERE


The suspiciousness of some of these accounts is immediately apparent. There
are individuals who claim to have spent Rs.4.5 lakhs on their own while
their party allegedly spent nothing. On the other hand are those who claim
that their party spent Rs.6.05 lakhs while they spent nothing. In at least
five cases the accounts were incomplete or improperly filed.  To
cross-check these accounts. I would have liked to know if all major
payments were made by cheque, but apparently that is not required by the
Election Commission. Also, whether these match with what political parties
have filed. But political parties are not required to make their election
expenses public. They furnish these only to the Election Commission. I took
up this matter with the Chief Election Commissioner but he did not care to
reply. 
 Over and above these technical issues, the major problem is that the
penalty prescribed in the law for violating the requirements of
transparency is an extremely small fine of Rs.500, under sections 171G, H &
I of the IPC. How obtuse can we get as a nation? An important thing such as
non-submission or improper submission of electoral accounts is penalized by
Rs. 500? Our laws are clearly designed to draw wool over our eyes. 
Three of the above candidates had not submitted their accounts till the 3rd
of December, 1999, thus violating S.78 of R.O.P. Act, 1951. Also, there was
virtually none who had not violated the law in at least some aspects. But
the Deputy Commissioner informed me on 24th of April, 2000 that so far only
one other person had bothered to requisition these accounts from his
office, and also, no action was being contemplated against any violation.
Indeed, I doubt if any case has ever been filed in such a matter, ever
before, anywhere in India. 
             There is very little sanctity to election expense accounting
today. Everyone seems to 'know' that laws will be violated; there is
cynicism all around. They do not even bother to seek a copy of these
accounts even though the copy costs only Re.1. Mr. Seshan has spoken of
cases where the actual expenses, as informally gathered by him, exceeded
the official limit by many orders of magnitude. If one were to state that
every politician has entered his political life by telling a lie through
filing false or incomplete accounts, and by not being penalized for these
actions, one would not be straying too far from the truth. And that, if
really true, is not a pleasant reality to live with as a nation.

3.	The fuel of corruption
But the situation is much more alarming than this. On a purely theoretical
level, assuming that a candidate does not get the financial support of any
party, organization, or other individual, as in the case of some
independents, and actually spends the Rs.15 lakhs prescribed by the
Election Commission, what would he actually receive at the end of the
process, if successful? An MP in India receives approximately Rs.10,000 per
month excluding perquisites. It is trivial to demonstrate that it is
impossible to recover the admissible expenses of elections from the salary
officially received by MPs.  Thus we have the strange phenomenon that at
least some of our representatives are happily losing big money by
representing us. Apart from a few charitable folk who might thus find
spiritual bliss in 'serving' the society, I find it very difficult to
believe that people in general would voluntarily give up their time and
money merely to have the thankless and often dangerous and dubious pleasure
of representing us. 
In reality, a major goal of most elected representatives has become to make
extra money on the side. Very few Ministers are seen taking deep and
sincere interest in their allotted work by guiding their departments
towards public welfare. Policy matters usually occupy the least attention
of Ministers. Prima facie, then, it does not appear that such people are
performing their job out of the sheer pleasure of improving the condition
of the citizens. This should come as no surprise, given that they have the
obligation of recovering the money they invested during elections.
Everything else is secondary; the departments they manage usually become a
tool to recoup their investments. 
	But if recovering electoral expenses were the end of it all, there would
be still some relief, eventually. In practice, it is seen that at least
some important Ministers travel literally with briefcases, or at least
wallets, bulging with hard cash. Such Ministers are often found
distributing large denomination notes to their drivers, security guards,
the public who have come to them with petitions, and so on. Indeed, many
Ministers and MLAs are obliged to distribute significant amounts of money
to various organizations, such as youth clubs, that exist in their
constituencies, in order to raise manpower for their future electoral
campaigns. In other words, not only do our representatives throw away their
money at the time of elections, but they also continue to scatter
considerable amounts away after becoming our official representative. Such
amazingly charitable, public-minded folk exist in India, and yet our
country is in shambles! Clearly, we have placed our representatives in the
firm grip of a vice, from which they can only escape by being enormously
corrupt. Compulsions, compulsions, everywhere, and no redemption in sight.
No wonder, our democracy is run by proxy by the mafia , consequent to which
the distribution of favours has become the fundamental business of our
representatives.

4.	Not one reason to be honest
Summing up, I find absolutely no reason which would persuade me to believe
that most Ministers in India can be strictly honest. I hope that we, as
citizens, realize this fundamental fact of our democracy. It is very
unpopular for MPs and MLAs to raise their own salaries. But unless we the
citizens are prepared to drastically change the current rotten system and
remunerate our representatives far better than we do today, we shall be
unable to attract good people into politics, and we shall have no cause to
grouse about what we get. We want everything to be free in India. We want
subsidy for food, transportation, education, power, and health care. But
these subsidies, despite very strong reasons for their removal, do not
damage our innards as a nation since we do pay for these subsidies openly
through a public budgetary process. 
On the other hand, our desire for good representation without paying for
it, has ensured that the entire system has become completely rotten to the
core, including the system of subsidies which are most often misdirected
toward the rich and influential. In my opinion, a good (i.e., competent and
honest) Prime Minister is worth well over Rs.1 lakh crores to India. We
should therefore increase the salary of the Prime Minister to at least the
levels of a middle-level business executive, say Rs. 1 crore per year.
Today, we ask other citizens to not only represent us, but to throw away
their money merely in order to enjoy the pleasure of representing us. How
long can we fool ourselves? This system is merely an invitation for
altruists and rascals to step forward and dig out our souls. We cannot
afford cheap representation. 	
 Competent, rational, public-minded citizens who are capable of managing
their own affairs of business successfully will come forward only when
there is some reasonable relationship between their remuneration, risk, and
opportunity cost. Let us carefully set incentives in our system to ensure
good representation. No doubt, a wider set of reforms of the electoral
system is required, such as making property returns of our representatives
public. But this one, of incentives, is the basic one.
             Indians as a people are not all corrupt and intellectual
pygmies. Our system merely throws up more of them, and indeed, breaks the
back of the honest. A good system would do otherwise. 


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