As public anger increases, corruption falls

The electoral debacle of the DMK-Congress in Tamil Nadu highlights public disgust with corruption , and underpins the Anna Hazare anti-graft crusade. But is corruption really worsening, or is the public simply angrier about it? Most survey data suggest, surprisingly , that corruption has been declining . Crooked politicians look enormously richer than ever before. Corruption has surely skyrocketed in real estate, natural resources and government contracts. But it has disappeared in deregulated areas like industrial and import licensing and foreign exchange.

Falling import duties have almost killed smuggling.

The annual corruption perception index of Transparency International (TI) gives country scores for corruption on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being most corrupt and 10 being least corrupt. India has gradually improved its score, from 2.78 in 1995 to 2.8 in 2000, 2.9 in 2005 and 3.3 in 2010. This is modest improvement.

In 1995, India was ranked 34th of 41 countries surveyed, near the bottom. But subsequent surveys covered many more countries, most of whom were far more corrupt than India. In 2010, India came 87th of 178 countries, halfway down the list. This is no cause for rejoicing: a score of 3.3 is pathetic when the best countries score 9. But it’s a small mercy if things are getting a bit better.

In 2010, China (3.5) scored marginally more than India. Much worse were Vietnam (2.7), Pakistan (2.3) and Russia (2.1).
TI has a separate bribe payers index (BPI), measuring the willingness of a country’s businesses to pay bribes abroad. The latest list for 2008 list covers only 22 countries. The most willing to bribe abroad is Russia (5.9) followed by China (6.5), Mexico (6.6) and India (6.8). So, India is pretty bad, but not the worst. Its score has improved from 4.2 in 2006 to 6.8 in 2008, and it has overtaken China, Mexico and Russia in the process.

Ordinary Indians worry most about the small local-level corruption that extracts money directly from their pockets for services that should be free. TI surveys show that people perceive corruption to be rising in the vast majority of countries, even the most honest Scandinavian countries, and it’s unclear whether such perception is mostly emotional or factual. More reliable than perceptions are data on the proportion of households who actually paid a bribe in the last year.

TI brings out a Global Corruption Barometer. This suggests that bribes paid by ordinary Indians for access to government services have shot up from 16% of households in 2003 to 54% in 2010. That sounds absolutely calamitous. But the very opposite is suggested by surveys conducted by CMS, a wellrespected survey organization. CMS suggests that the proportion of Indians saying they paid a bribe in the 12 months literally halved from 56% to 28% between 2005 and 2010. This looks like a fabulous outcome. Ironically, the CMS report was released by the local head of Transparency International , with no sense of the glaring contradiction between the two reports . The TI surveys have a small sample size of around 1,000 people. CMS, on the other hand, surveyed almost 9,000 people in 2005 and 10,000 in 2010, and therefore boasts a more robust statistical base. The CMS also has a more rural focus.

The CMS survey asked about bribes in relation to four government services – the public distribution system for food, education, water supply and health. The TI survey covered nine areas, including the police , courts and registry officials. Can this explain the difference in outcome of the two surveys? Not really , it is implausible that the four areas surveyed by CMS could have improved dramatically while the others surveyed by TI worsened dramatically : quality trends in administration tend to be similar across sectors.

Surveys can be contradictory. We cannot ignore the Barometer’s survey . Yet the positive trends of the CMS survey are more in line with TI’s corruption perception index and bribe payers index, both of which show corruption decreasing. CMS gives several possible reasons for declining bribes, such as improved technology and media activism . Nonsense, say sceptics, politicians are making unprecedented billions today. The debate will continue.

Whatever the truth, we can celebrate the CMS finding that media and TV coverage of corruption has risen fourfold in five years! This suggests a social revolution. Fast GDP growth has created a rising middle class that refuses to sit back and accept corruption as “chalta hai.” TV is amplifying this middle class anger into political change, first in Anna Hazare’s coup and now in the DMK defeat. Hurrah! Let’s build on this anger : we have a long way to go.

6 thoughts on “As public anger increases, corruption falls”

  1. But I certainly believe it has become an inherent part of the system..people might just support Anna Hazare and his campaigns on Facebook and streets but how many of us deprive ourselves of facilities by not paying a bribe..
    I had a tough time explaining the cop who came for my passport authentication that its was his duty to autheticate my address..and he was asking me for kharcha paani that he took to verify my address…result: my passport got delayed..but I was happy that I fought

  2. TN election time was different this time. No large wall poster, wall painting, no late night campaign, no traffic jams and all credit to policing by election commission. There need to be just unbiased policing even after election is over, may be lokpal bill should include such policing in their bill.

    My other point is, election commission should also display asset details of all candidates year on year basis (for last 5 years) along with criminal /civil case (if any) on all polling boths & websites where the contestant is in fray. This would help the public to know better about the candidates contesting and also help in selecting the right candidate.

  3. Corruption would end only when we as individuals stop this bribing business….Time is money these days…and to get our work done at the earliest we do not mind shelling out the extra bucks…..It does not occur to us how this bribing business has got ingrained in our system and how badly it affects the scheme of things at a higher level.
    We are not very different from the politicians.we are as corrupt as they are albiet in our case the big bucks are missing. you steal 10 bucks or 10 million, you would still be a stealer, a thief.
    Computerisation is probably the right solution to put an end to corruption. Computers cannot take bribes!!!

  4. Sundar Rengarajan

    This is one odd Swaminomics column that I tend to disagree. It is one thing to say that awareness on & against corruption has increased and another say that such pronounced awareness/conciousness is putting brakes on menace ! If people of Swami’s stature find corruption decreasing of late, it only reflects that the ‘Chalta hai’ attitude does not spare opinion makes as well ! Corruption as a national disease has been bleeding us profusely – if we take cosmetic cues of it decreasing just because the Govt & Opposition have amplified their rhetoric on fight against corruption, then it is a grave error. Corruption is ubiquitous in India, – from PDS shop to RTO office to major infrastructure programs. More importantly, this is complemented by the ‘chalta hai’ & ‘forget within a month’ disease. Not sure Swami has found it more easy to obtain a PDS card (not just BPL) or get a vehicle hypothication removed without shelling out ‘rishvath’.

    Let us not forget the importance of media in the latest awareness/awakening among the masses against corruption. People such as Swami Iyer have contributed a lot towards this awakening. They must continue to highlight & bear torch to this phenomenon so that concrete & concerted efforts are taken to address this – this can be sorted in a 1 month or year – thanks to the enormity of the problem & the degree of entrenchment, this will at least need a 4-5 year lead time to get significant improvement. This can only be a scheme of continuous improvement – When the hemorrhage in the brain slows down then the focus should shift to stop the hemmorhage in the limb & so on – it is a blunder to be complacent even without real data evidence that brain hemmorhage has slowed down ! Cheers.

  5. Sir,
    1. 2005 was the year of the RTI Act. This could be the reason for reduction in bribery incidences.
    2. people could be less desperate in a PDS ration shop than when they have law and order issues. This might explain the different outcomes of the 2 surveys.

  6. The most corrupt & almost everyone comes into contact dept is RTO. Why they don’t centralize it? Whenever people have to migrate from one state to another they have to change the registration. The transfer process is so tedious, people prefer to drive their vehicles without re-registration. Also the road tax, why don’t they just centralize it?

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