Monday, 18 April 2011

Petty corruption? Or Big corruption - which is the real problem?

Today’s Hindustan Times in its Intersections column titled “Want to end petty corruption? Free the bribe giver” has proposed that to end corruption the bribe giver has to be freed. While I am all for taking stern measures to end this menace of corruption, the writer has assumed that bribes are given to get that work done that should legitimately be done. This is a very naive view, and represents only the small bribes, which though extremely annoying and frustrating, are not what most of us feel are the bane of this country. And it is this class of bribe givers who would have responded to sites such as ipaidabribe.com. This represents a one sided picture only – and even here those who have, say, jumped a red-light and preferred paying off the constable rather than accept the challan would not have volunteered information at such sites and hence would not be covered in the statistics on petty bribes discussed in the colomn.

Most of us deliberately pay bribes because we find it more convenient - why not pay some money to the TT and get a berth at the last minute in the train? Or why not tip the colony maali to drop of some manure at our door step? Or pay extra to jump the others ahead of us in the queue? Convenience money is the true term for "petty bribes" and it is a holier than thou attitude which attempts to justify the bribe giver.

The larger and more significant bribes are given to allow a wrong act, which is extremely beneficial to the bribe giver who ensures that the quantum of bribe given, which might not even have been asked, is adequate temptation, if not almost impossible to resist.  

Of my own experience while working, I can vouch for the fact that bribe givers very very frequently attempt to tempt the officials sometimes with that which they know will be difficult to resist. I remember on first reporting at an assignment, a customer called on me with a huge (over one ft cube) box of chocolates. Having already built up a reputation, obviously considered a negative reputaion by those on the other side of the table (since I used to flatly refuse in the past), I was cautious. I explained very politely (and I thought, very tactfully) that I was living alone and there was no need for this, to assuage his feelings of possible rejection, I thanked him politely, served him tea etc. and took a single bar of chocolate. Well done I thought. Only to have him declaim to one and all that I was too proud!

Occasions of Diwali are impossible – all and sundry land up carrying parcels as token of their gifts – leaving me to explain to my children why on Diwali so many people turned up and why I sent them back with their gifts – after spending, what for us was a near fortune on extending them hospitality since they had come home on Diwali. Year after year it persisted till we were left with no option but to lock up the house and ensure that we did not spend the days preceding Diwali at home. Awkward situations and persistent pressures were similarly faced by many of my colleagues. Relax your vigil even momentarily, and you are doomed for all times, since the bribe givers pressure tactics only get strengthened.

If bribes are really to be tackled, it must be accepted that the gain to the giver is more than his loss – which is why he has paid his supposedly hard-earned money.

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