Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Corruption and the Lokpal bill

Those who have been following the news in India would have heard of the Lokpal bill, an anti-corruption measure.

The bill proposes the setting up of an ombudsmen which will look into issues of corruption, a measure while welcome, only deals with the problem once manifest. Why wait this long? Far better to prevent than to cure, and the surest means to a cure is to eliminate the cause.

Corruption in public office, the type of corruption that is the most serious since it perverts public policy, becomes possible when an official enjoys the power to issue vital documents. The citizen needs these documents in order to go about his business, hence its importance, which creates for its issuer the ability to charge a rent. The more important the document, the higher the rent.

If the need for such documents were reduced, the ability to charge would disappear, therefore simplifying regulations, eliminating the need for pointless permits, would be the first step to rooting out the problem at source.

What the Government needs to do is revisit its laws and regulations and identify which ones are essential. India is notorious for being over regulated. All manner of antiquated rules dating from the time of the Raj are still in force, to which have been added a raft of others in the decades under socialism. Regulations are necessary, this is why we need to tolerate governments, but over regulation creates circumstances in which corruption thrives. India has been ranked as the most over regulated nation in Asia.

Improving transparency in public affairs and moving to electronic or web based means of issuing documents will also help. If officials are holding back, say building permits, publishing on a weekly basis, the number of permits received and the number approved will immediately highlight potential problem areas. Is the official concerned simply inefficient (a problem in itself), or is something else going on? The mere knowledge that the public at-large have a visible performance indicator will have a salutatory effect on both corruption and inefficiency.

Naturally, deregulation and transparency are not popular, vested interests will always rail against them, so what the Indian Government needs to do is quietly deregulate. It took an economic crisis in 1990 for the first wave of deregulation to take place, further deregulation, which will cut the ground from under the bureaucrats.

This will save administrative costs, reduce the hassle people have to through and also give India's economy a much needed boost.


Angel said...

My problem with the ombudsman, is of course, the age old, who will guard the guards question.

Jack Point said...

Angel, true enough.

Patta Pal said...

I agree with the deregulation to open up competition and eventually bring down prices to the end user. It is easier to do in a huge economy such as India's as opposed to Sri Lanka, where fewer players can gang up and form an oligopoly to protect their own interests.

I am so glad that this issue is coming to the fore in India and hope it can rub off on Sri Lanka too.