Lessons from the Past 36: Justification for Corruption?
Over these many decades in India, corruption has set in, and firmly, in most activities in the country. The progress has been gradual—first hardly noticed; then reluctantly accepted; and still later, fully accepted, and just short of being legitimised!
 
Many years ago, I started a small manufacturing unit with a factory in Hyderabad. Over time, I found that my blood pressure went up considerably when I saw someone come to the reception area—generally dressed in white with a cloth bag in hand. It had to be one of the 'inspectors' on his rounds. They did the rounds and then expected or accepted a token parting gift. It was protection money. 
 
On one occasion when I was not there, the factory manager refused to pay a ‘more than normal’ amount demanded (saying he would have to check with me first—and I was out of town). So the inspector issued an order to seal the factory on the flimsy excuse that the production area was not completely insulated against contagion. 
 
We had to go to court to file a plea to reopen the factory. The stocks in godown were blocked and the production staff had no work for three weeks! The judge took up the case, summarily passed an order to pay a fine, and reopen the factory. I agreed. 
 
The matter was over—or so I thought. 
 
As I was walking out, down the corridor, the government lawyer came rushing towards me. “Sir, Sir—you have forgotten to look after me.” 
 
I was surprised. “How?” 
 
“I did not fight the case. You got off lightly. You may like to compensate me with some amount?” he replied.
 
"How much?" I asked. He told me. I said OK—and pulled out my purse. 
 
As I was paying him, he added, “And you will have to give me a similar amount for the judge. He also cooperated very nicely!” 
 
I had to use all my willpower not to show my shock at this whole operation. I settled for half the additional amount. Yes. The government lawyer had shown a reason for such a fee. And also a reason for remunerating the judge. 
 
It was not corruption. It was charged for services rendered
 
I could not go through such traumas for very long. After four years, I sold the company to someone better suited to manage an enterprise in such an environment!
 
It is common knowledge that policemen on duty in Mumbai city, are often ‘on the take’. 
 
There has been enough said in the media about policeman Sachin Vaze, and commissioner Parambir Singh—which are indicators of corruption in the police force. 
 
Most of the time, the culture starts at the top, and percolates right through the organisation. But can you blame the poor policeman who takes Rs199 from you for speeding or ignoring the red light? 
 
After all, they are so poorly paid and have to work so hard. Look at the police quarters, which are a replica of slums next door. It is a far cry from Singapore, Muscat, or London, where policemen are well paid. Police corruption will, therefore, be justified. They need to make ends meet!
 
Many years ago, I had the good fortune to be appointed on the three-man Administrative Reforms Commission of a state government. In one of the major towns where my colleague and I were visiting, the collector threw a very nice dinner party for us at his home and invited other government officials and important local citizens. 
 
The dinner was excellent – excellent quality and too much of it. I complimented the collector and his wife. And knowing the quantum of allowance to spend on such occasions, I quietly directly asked the collector how he could afford it. 
 
He confessed that this was all supplied (against request) by various restaurants in town. “You know, one cannot manage now without such support,” he told me. 
 
My predecessor in this job, 60 years ago, could afford to send three children to high-class boarding schools in the hills. I now find it difficult to send just one child to the local school as a day scholar. So how does one manage? Another good justification for supposedly limited corruption at the highest level!!
 
Is there a way back to an ethical framework? Or is it too late?  Is it the first phase of cancer where the remedy cannot be a remedy anymore?
 
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India (FIMC). He was a corporate executive for 14 years and pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across the globe in four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books; a business columnist; visiting professor on marketing in the US, Europe and Asia. His latest books are "5 Gs of family Business" with Dr Mita Dixit and "Marketing in a Digital/ Data World" with Brian Almeida. He now spends most of the time in NGO work.)
Comments
sathya2011
3 weeks ago
A nice presentation of facts and this is one reason why corporates are appointing specified agencies to handle the graft and greasing of palms for a fee and it is irony that they register themselves legitimately.
VN KULKARNI
3 weeks ago
SIR, VERY EXCELLENT EYEOPENER FOR TO PONDER OVER. BUT WHO HAS GOT THE TIME?
If I am wrongly caught by police, I would better pay him than fight in court for my innocence,where I may be required to take leave to attend tarikh pe tarikh.
cgpkumar
3 weeks ago
As long as there is someone ready to pay a bribe and someone ready to receive it, corruption will remain part of our lives as air pollution. Digitisation of all transaction processes is said to be a solution to this. But try getting a liquor permit online in Mumbai or try loading your housing society documents online for Deemed Conveyance. You will wonder if the web portal designers were paid to embed bugs in them in order to render them permanently dysfunctional.
Three days ago I attended the last rites of a relative. An amount was paid at the site to obtain the death certificate as well as the bones and ashes the next day so that everything proceeds “smoothly without a hassle” - and it did.
In a country like Singapore if you want a government process accomplished faster you pay an extra charge officially to hasten the transaction. Is corruption therefore a necessary premium for our impatience ?
Within our families and at our workplaces we often hear this conversation: “If the guy asks for something, say chai pani, just pay it and get the job done, okay ! I will approve it.” As long as we continue to remain unperturbed listening to such a conversation, we are only doing our bit to entrench corruption and we forfeit thereby our right to complain about it !
Meenal Mamdani
3 weeks ago
There is a website in India where this can be posted, http://www.ipaidabribe.com/#gsc.tab=0
Problem is that those who have to deal with the same entities repeatedly in their line of work dare not do this as they will face immense problems next time.
Is there a way that a "Anti-Corruption Commissioner", like there is a CIC for RTI, could deal with this issue in a public manner, so that the offending individual is not only penalized but also publicly shamed?
BR
Replied to Meenal Mamdani comment 3 weeks ago
There must be evidence shown for corruption. It can be reported to the police now.
veereshmalik
3 weeks ago
Corruption expected has also shifted to interaction with the private sector - be it the privatisation of issuing of government documents or even buying a motor vehicle from the private dealers of private manufacturers. The rising middle class, numbers and aspirations, are prime targets to be squeezed by whoever they meet. One way out is faceless interface.
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