Corruption breeds corruption

Today the United Nations is "celebrating" corruption.

A few decades ago, corruption was not a word heard often, bribery was a word which was never used openly. Bribery then would mean palming a one rupee coin to the gate keeper at the hospital to get in to the hospital outside visiting ours, to a hospital attendant to jump the OPD queue or to look after a patient. It was a pot of curd or a bunch of plantains taken to the residence of an official for some service. Or it was a bottle of arrack offered to a clerk in a government department. A very popular film was produced about a doctor who accepted a bribe of a few rupees to attend to a patient.

Looking back, it is very difficult to believe that we are living in the same country. Today bribes are offered and accepted openly. Even the highest authority in the country states that they have been offered bribes, and accuses other high officials of accepting bribes. There seems to be total immunity for everyone in the country for such a dastardly crime. The public has got in to the habit of forgiving and then forgetting. What they do not realize is that corruption is worse than a cancer, that it keeps on growing, that corruption always breeds further corruption. It also becomes a chain reaction, spreading from one level to another. It is also like a narcotic drug, as you get used to it, you have to keep increasing the dosage.

Such corruption means that money which should have been used for the benefit of the country ends up in some ones pocket, or bank account. With high level corruption the money even goes out of the country. Where funds come in to build a 100 houses only 50 houses would be built and a palace somewhere else. Where funds come for 100 km of highways only 50 km would be built. This corruption trickles down. When a poor family is allocated Rs 100, they receive only Rs. 50. Corruption also affects productivity, because all work get delayed till palms are well oiled. Till then every thing is at a standstill.

Bribery has become a part of routine business today and if bribery was to stop immediately by some miracle, there would be an immediate collapse of the private sector business and all public services. It would take a while for business to recover from such a collapse.

'Give me liberty or give me the freedom to bribe' wrote Pierre Lemieux, in Today we do not have any freedom, even though we celebrate the winning of such freedom, and we boast that we are a free country. We are not free. We are the slaves under a totally corrupt system. Nothing works without the proper oiling. The politician or official who tries to be honest, who would refuse a bribe, would not be able to survive in today's urban jungle. One good apple would not be able to survive amidst a heap of rotten apples, however much chemical treatment has been done.

The term Public Servant is not applicable anymore. The new term for public officials should be 'Public Masters'. They are the masters and we the public are the slaves. We are worse than slaves because we have to serve them and pay them too. Even a Minister who accepts a bribe should be considered as a prostitute. People in such high positions would be selling not only their body and soul, but sometimes the entire country, our future generations. When a powerful official in a powerful country accepts a bribe it could sometimes affect the entire world.

Bribery is a form of prostitution. Payment for services rendered. Then anyone who accepts a bribe can be considered as a prostitute. A whore. Harlot. What ever name is to be used. But this is worse than prostitution because all men do not need services of prostitutes and all women are not prostitutes. Prostitutes are also used as bribes sometimes, in which case it would be a prostitute using the services of a prostitute! We have to coin a new word for this.

Bribery works in a vicious circle. And very often it is justified by those who give and accept bribes. It has become standard practice in some trades, like motor spare parts, when a new purchasing officer comes to purchase spares for his organization, be it public or private, the salesman at the counter would ask him the price that should be shown on the invoice. The man would try to refuse it the first time, but within a few days he would be roped in. It is in the interest of the salesman too, because the bribe offered would tie his customer to them. The salesman or his company would not be loosing any money, because the bribe would be added to the selling price. This cannot be stopped, because there would not be a fixed or standard price for most motor spares. There is heavy competition.

The person in charge of purchasing or imports in this shop would be aware of this practice, which he himself would put to good use when he makes the purchases. The foreign supplier would look after this person. At the other end, the sales staff of the organization where they all know how their purchasing officers are making money would in turn be using this policy for what they sell. And even for a customer who does not want to accept such a bribe, still the salesman could claim it from his employer. There would be no way to check if such a commission is paid in full to the buyer or if it is pocketed by the salesman. Such sales commissions are justified, sometimes even by the management, as long as it improves the sales. After a while the salesman would have made enough money on the side, that he will open a business of his own. He would tap all his old clients, offer a bigger bribe and beat his previous employer. Someday it would happen to him too.

When the management insists that at least three quotations should be called for and product or service, when it is manipulated, one party submits all three quotations, giving them enough room to share substantial profits with those involved in the purchase.

When it comes to public institutions where products and services are purchased by tender, bribery and corruption has spread from top to bottom. Gone are the days when public tenders were handled by honest officials, who handled the tender and the evaluation to ensure that the country obtained the best products and services at the best price. Today the corruption begins before the preparation of the tender documents, where specifications could be 'locked', to ensure that a particular supplier or brand or model could only fit the tender specifications. Then it would be smooth sailing, the bidder could give his own price adding his profit margins, big enough to be shared with the people handling the tender. Often these people manipulate innocent technical officers to achieve their ends. There are also other ways of ensuring that their party gets the tender. The tender can be announced giving very little time for bidders to prepare and submit their offers. They could introduce impractical condition to qualify for the tender. After the tender is opened, offers, specifications, supporting documents could be introduced, documents from competitors could go missing. The members of the evaluation committee could be influenced, blackmailed or replaced with their own people. When samples are required, they are obtained from the institution from their present stocks, in cases where packing and labels are not required, to ensure that the samples never fail. Samples of other competitors could be tampered with.

Children learn from their parents how to give and accept bribes. A child's first exposure to bribery is at the time of school admission. Officials who issue the documents needed for the admission, and sometimes teachers and the school principal has to be bribed. In some schools this would continue, till the child completes his education, to win special favours in school activities, to be selected for sports teams, to be made a prefect or school captain. The child would also be aware when his parents accept bribes, would know how the parents are able to offer them all the luxuries. Even after the child has grown and matured enough to know what is right and wrong, he would enjoy the ill gotten gains of his parents. Not many would rebel against such actions, when the parents solicit more and more bribes to send the child overseas, to USA, UK, Australia or Japan for higher studies. The country has to pay for the education of these spoilt brats. The real Free Education in this country is really enjoyed by the children of some politicians and state officials only. By this time, corruption would be in the child's blood, never to leave, and he will continue the tradition and pass on to his own children.

Everyone in the country is aware of these practices. When a politician or a 'public master' sends his children overseas for studies, unless he has his own private income from business or professional services, we all know that he would not be able to afford such expenses on his salary. Unless it was on a scholarship the child would need expenses for academic fees and for food and lodging. In most instances such needs of the officials are provided for by businessmen. The official is under obligation for these businessmen, for several years, till as long as their children remain overseas.

Multi-National Companies, who state publicly that they do not resort to any unethical practices, still continue to bribe their way into big business in our part of the world. To them bribing our officials is not an issue, because they consider people in our countries are already corrupt totally and every one has a price, which they can easily meet. Then they will only add all this cost to their price. When any businessman pays a bribe to get some business, in the end it is the consumer who pays it. We have to pay not only the money for the cost of production and profits, but also for the payments made to officials who approve the import of such products.

Sri Lanka has joined the Anti-Corruption Initiative for Asia-Pacific, under the ADB/OECD. Thus our country is now committed to fight against corruption. The question is who will lead this fight? Who can cast the first stone? One year ago Sri Lanka received US$ 125,000 (Rs. 12.5 million) from the UNDP, "to begin a project aimed at preventing and rooting out corruption, by promoting transparency and accountability in the public and the private sector". It would be interesting reading material if the Commission to Investigate Allegations of bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) could publish the progress they have made with this project, or for that matter what the CIABOC has achieved over the past 12 years!

Bribery was made an offence in 1883, during the British rule. Then over the years new Acts were brought in. Declaration of Assets was made compulsory in 1975. CIABOC was formed in 1994 when all the other Acts and rules and regulations had failed. In one of their reports CIABOC mentions a "case of a Senior Security Manager of the National Housing Development Authority who was successfully prosecuted for seeking sexual gratification from a female security guard on the promise of getting a transfer to a more congenial station and a house to live in". What an achievement!

Citizen Perera will have to go on bribing his way through, from birth to death, and even after death.

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