(3 of 4)
The wonders of IT can help us do exactly that in preventing or at least reducing corruption in the first place and at the lowest level where it matters most. Let's come back to the example of Mr. Bhuria. Because of the patent failures of the PDS system, The Indian Government is already contemplating scrapping the distribution system altogether and is planning to directly give food coupons or cash to families below the poverty line so as to save them the trouble of facing corrupt PDS staff and bureaucrats by giving them the freedom to buy whatever things they wish and from wherever they wish. Such a move is welcome, and it gives policy makers enough ground to speculate and plan further. Thus, for instance, to ensure the delivery of these food coupons to families such as those of Mr. Bhuria, these coupons could be made electronic (say like a credit card) and could be designed to contain, along with other essential identification information, accurate biometric details of every person in the family, associating them with the already proposed Unique Identification Number an id number along the lines of the social security number in the US. A network of retail stores could then be set up in remote rural areas by private players, replacing the government PDS system. Minimizing government-individual interference, the system would require an entitled person to purchase directly from the private retailer in exchange for his coupon, the coupons being allowed, of course, for later reimbursement. The precise biometric data, along with verification at the time of purchase, would also ascertain that the supplies actually go to the families themselves. This would keep in check the issuing of fake coupons.
Finally, to ensure that big retailers actually set up shops in remote rural areas, the companies could be advised to include this undertaking as a part of their corporate social responsibility. Printing an indicator on the company's products and other advertisings that would project the company's efforts in this area could also be made mandatory for the purpose of reflecting these initiatives in that company's marketing, thereby incentivizing them to open such shops in exchange for a better market image. Additionally, if this entire consumer- supplier transaction data of the central database is made visible or accessible to the public, then policy experts could also pick up critical patterns that could help them improve upon their existing schemes. So basically, with the help of information technology, we can create a transparent and accountable system that will 'accurately' deliver. Similarly, in other areas of governance, the transparency produced by I.T. can be used in substantially reducing corruption. It is, admittedly, radical, but it's still worth a try.
So, in sum, we could say that a healthy government structure is a prerequisite for all other forms of social and economic development. Therefore, just as important as eradicating corruption in the domestic context is also achieving political stability in the larger, much broader, context of the continent. It is worth recalling here what the Minister Mentor of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew said about the rising instability in Burma: "ASEAN leaders know that if the situation in Myanmar deteriorates and continues to deteriorate, there will come a breaking point where much more brutal force will be used to put a revolt down ... So it is in the best interests of every country in ASEAN to help stabilize Myanmar. An unstable Myanmar is a time bomb for the whole region." Indeed, political instability in a country, besides threatening the general security of the surrounding region, cripples growth in not only that country but also the entire neighborhood. For the nation in particular, the uncertainty associated with an unstable political environment, in addition to detrimentally impacting executive economic decisions such as investment, production and labor supply, reduces foreign and domestic investment and hence the speed of economic development. And, most importantly, the hostile presence of such unstable countries disrupts cooperation between bordering countries, severely undermining the otherwise great economic potential of that area.
Therefore, instability in any region will be detrimental to the entire continent in the future. A stable political region, on the other hand, by providing an atmosphere conducive to regional economic integration and cooperation, will immensely benefit the economic prosperity of different neighborhoods, which will consequently contribute to the overall prosperity of Asia. For example, if the struggling countries in South Asia resolve their conflicts and gain more stability and if trade restrictions are removed, it is expected that intra-regional trade, which is presently at US$5 billion, could jump to US$20billion. Moreover, a peaceful region, especially in and around Afghanistan and the Middle-East, would also solve to a great extent the festering problem of international terrorism. Thus, Asian leaders must make efforts towards brokering peace between belligerent nations to enhance stability in tense regions. Also, for the purpose of manufacturing a harmonious inter-country cooperative economic environment, Asian leaders must make efforts towards enhancing market integration and cooperation as part of their regional strategy. In this regard, organizations such as ASEAN and SAARC, some of which haven't yet delivered successfully, must deliver. Unfortunately, it is true that regional conflicts and instability will prevail for a long time. Nonetheless, as responsible nations of Asia, mature economies must make all possible efforts in assisting their ailing counterparts in coming out of political misery, perhaps through conditional aid and, if necessary, even (peaceful) intervention.
It is also important to mention here that democracy, too, is a vital part of the definition of a 'healthy government structure' majorly because, besides giving the people adequate rights and freedom, it plays an essential role in 'sustainable' stability and growth. Although upon observing it does seem that certain oppressive authoritative regimes such as the highly corrupt military junta of Burma, the Kim Jong-Il led nuclear armed totalitarian government of North Korea, and quite surprisingly, also China, by maintaining a long presence, have stabilized their internal politics, this apparent stability is actually a state of unstable equilibrium where there is a constant possibility of a revolt or an uprising. Spreading the light of democracy in regions with such closed and oppressive governments by encouraging them to resort to more democratic practices will ensure sustainable peace along with sustainability in all other aspects of growth, and so diligent efforts must be made in this direction as well.
This chapter in Asia's history will be all about economic development. We have all the pieces necessary to solve the economic puzzle except those that complete the picture of good governance in the region. On finding those pieces and upon completing this part of the puzzle, economic growth will be smarter, accelerated, more inclusive, more sustainable, and capable of confronting the long unresolved problems of poverty, food security, illiteracy and even terrorism and energy security. It is time, therefore, that we got our basics right for, in the decade after the next and the ones after that, we will have even grimmer challenges to face, and we better be prepared for them.
References1. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/09/world/asia/09food.html?_r=1&scp=3&sq=ind ia%20poverty&st=cse
2. Vinay_Bhargava, Emil_Bolongaita-Challenging_Corruption_in_Asia
5. http://www.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi/2009/cpi_2009_t able
7. http://www.transparency.org/news_room/latest_news/press_releases/2009/2009_ 11_17_cpi2009_en
9. Sadiq_Ahmed, Saman_Kelegama, Ejaz_Ghani- Promoting_Economic_Cooperation_in_South_Asia: Beyond_SAFTA
10. http://www.ssc.upenn.edu/ier/Political%20Economy%20Archives/Political%20Econo my%20Working%20Papers/Political%20Instability.pdf