Escape routes

A reflection of why corruption has flourished in our body politic can be found not only in the extremely slow pace of proceedings against the corruption-accused, but also, even more importantly, in the fact that few are virtually hauled for action despite prima facie or even hard evidence of their wrong-doing. Moreover, as the state has a constitutional anti-graft organ, the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), hardly any government leader or administrator seems to think it their duty to separate the abusers of authority from the rest and hand the cases over to the CIAA for further action. If the understaffed, and often the not sufficiently motivated or courageous CIAA, does not lay its hand on those involved in dishonest dealings, no controlling authority has taken the initiative to bring them to book, with very few exceptions.

The recall of employees from their places of posting by any ministry and issuing oral or written directions or warnings to them against any future repetition of acts of abuse of authority may be justified in minor cases of dereliction of duty. But employees or office-holders who betray public trust and deliberately engage themselves in dishonest business should not be let off lightly - all the more so when a significant loss is caused to the exchequer or core values of public probity are outraged. Departmental action may range from mild reproof to withholding of grades or promotion, but these kinds of action are fit only for minor cases, not for serious ones like indulgence in corruption, that, too, on not-so-small a scale. Departmental action has also often been used as a way of shielding employees — frequently in the police and the army — accused of serious crimes like murder or rape. The media often come up with such cases being hushed up through ‘departmental action’, through an offer of apology to victims, or through some financial compensation to them. This soft approach is unlikely to deter others from resorting to similar acts, as they will tend to get the message that they are unlikely to face the consequences of their wrongdoings.

Undoubtedly, the CIAA must be strengthened with more staff, more expertise, and more resources, and above, with people of courage, impartiality and probity. But even this cannot render unnecessary the need for setting up an effective mechanism for line agencies to act against corruption prevalent within them and then call in the CIAA services. It would be virtually impossible for the CIAA to send its sleuths round all the offices across the country. Moreover, even when irregularities have been pointed out in the Report of the Auditor-General, or by others, action has seldom followed. This state of impunity has emboldened unscrupulous people in their wrong ways. Transfers of bureaucrats to the CIAA have often led to conflicts of interest, thereby weakening its effectiveness further. The fact that the CIAA has lost many important corruption cases in the court also stresses the importance of investigating where the fault lies, and in to what degree — in the judiciary or in the CIAA — and of taking corrective steps.