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Consider this story recently featured in an article in the New York Times of an illiterate and poor farmer Ratan Bhuria with a malnourished wife and children in the village of Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh, India. Under a Union Government policy for ensuring nutrition and food security to the poor, as a person below the poverty line, he and his family are entitled monthly to a 77- pound bag of grains, sugar and kerosene. Unfortunately, no matter how much money is allotted to the scheme, they don't receive it. The article also states "Studies show that 70 percent of a roughly $12 billion budget is wasted, stolen or absorbed by bureaucratic and transportation costs." On top of that, the local clerks who are supposed to issue food rations to families such as that of Mr. Bhuria's seldom do their job. In an instance, investigators once, as the report states "discovered 3,500 fake food ration booklets in the district, believed to have been issued by low-level officials for themselves and their friends." The Union Government of India with its noble intentions of ensuring food security to every citizen below the poverty line has a reasonably good policy in place, has considerable funding for the project and even has a widespread Public Distribution system along with an army of bureaucratic workforce in villages to ensure the distribution of food grains at the lowest level all in vain, unfortunately, because of the unredeemed presence of corruption. To see all efforts evaporate just because of selfish inefficiencies of a few is nauseatingly frustrating and detestable.
Corruption is an economic parasite that debilitates all functioning aspects of a socio- economic system. Nepotism, by reducing competitiveness, severely undermines the principles of a capitalist economic system and destroys the fabric of a democratic government system. So it is not wrong to say that a corrupt democracy is as good as a despotic feudal monarchy. On the macroeconomic scale, by significantly increasing public expenditure on the one hand and by reducing the tax take on the other, bribery, along with other corrupt practices, significantly raises the costs of operating an economy, which eventually leads to financial damage in the form of fiscal deficits and macroeconomic instability. This fact was unequivocally highlighted in the event of the near collapse of the highly corrupt economies of Thailand, Korea, and Indonesia in 1997 during the East Asian Financial Crisis. Philippines, which was once ahead of the South Asian nations such as India in the 1950s in economic terms, also trails behind some of them today, only because of its internal corruption. Furthermore, on a more social and humanitarian level, apart from corroding away the legitimacy and the trust of the State, corruption usually hurts the poor as it ruthlessly and shamelessly sucks out most of the already bare essentials that they have to sustain on. As Mr. Bhuria's example demonstrates, it is one of the single biggest obstacles in the way of eliminating poverty. And in Asia, where most of the countries are still at the developing stages, because it eats away the hard earned resources required for development, corruption, according to me, is absolutely unacceptable.
Upon observing closely the 2009 statistics of Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), it also does not come as a surprise that the most corrupt nations of Asia are the least developed and the most unstable. According to CPI's 2009 statistics, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Iraq all politically turbulent nations scored 1.3, 1.4, and 1.5 whereas Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan scored 9.2, 8.2 and 7.7 respectively, strictly in accordance with the perceived relationship. What concerns me is that most of the nations in Asia, especially those of South and Southeast Asia, including prosperous ones such as India, scored below 5 in the CPI. This indicates an even greater need for our continent's leaders to eradicate this pestering menace.
Although, various anti-corruption efforts have taken momentum in the past decade, (such as the G-20's commitment towards the ratification and implementation of the UN Convention Against Corruption) not much has been achieved, especially in informing the inaccessible poor and the illiterate the most in need of this information. Apart from strong political will and an efficient judiciary that would strictly ensure law enforcement, extricating the people from the shackles of a corrupt government requires transparency (in the form of better availability of information) and accountability in the government, along with an active civil society and a free media. Such solutions are well known. The fundamental problem, however, is that corruption is a problem beyond politics and despite the presence of extensive and vigorous anti-corruption laws and policies, the implementation and execution invariably depends on the prevalent government, which can show either nature, depending on the luck of that country. Thus, although this (implementation) does require on part of the public office some degree of patriotism, honesty and selflessness, the hope that such abstract qualities will eventually permeate the bearers of public office cannot be relied upon in the formulation of a scientific economic policy where predictability is often synonymized with certainty and accuracy. This, therefore, calls for the removal of control of the human element from the government machinery and thereby, ironically, increasing the trust by another fairer and more precise method. Utilizing the powers of Information Technology, then, becomes almost inevitable.
In this regard, the views of David Cameron, the British P.M., are particularly interesting. In one of his talks, Mr. Cameron described how the availability of information can dilute the centralized state structure and can take us to a "post bureaucratic age" where, by giving more power and control to the people and by "marrying" this fact with the incredible abundance of information, we can "remake politics, remake government, and remake our public services". He gives an example of how greater transparency can be achieved through this unique marriage of governance with I.T. through "one of his favorite websites" the Missouri Accountability Portal. It seems only wise to quote him verbatim: "In the old days, only the government could hold the information... Now here, on one website, one state in America, every single dollar spent by that government is searchable, is analyzable, is checkable." It is amply clear that only through such transparency and accountability on the part of the government can we eliminate corruption from our system.