A huge crowd cheered and applauded Anna Hazare when he addressed a public meeting at National College grounds, Bangalore, on 28 May 2011. Today’s headlines reports Anna Hazare’s open support to Baba Ramdev in his fight against corruption. We have been reading about the noble efforts of several selfless crusaders against corruption. Primed with thoughts of anti-corruption and Jan Lokpal Bill, we all support the movement and are confident that something positive will emerge.
In a debate on 27 May, in response to a question, Justice Santosh Hegde said, “If a person is coerced to pay bribe, he cannot be considered guilty.” This paints a picture of hapless common man. At times the common man is helpless and is squeezed by the clerks and officers in government offices. However, many times we want to take short-cuts, want to get something that we do not deserve, and want to buy peace of mind rather than taking the trouble of proving our position. The cost of completing a job done by fair means is often costlier than getting it done with some speed money. We don’t feel committed to take the right path when an easier unethical path is open and inviting.
Corruption is lack of integrity or honesty, one effect of which is bribe taking. In this page, I use the term ‘corruption’ with restricted meaning of ‘bribes’, which are illegal payments in exchange for favours.
How can we as common men help reduce bribe? I share some views based on what I have been practicing and have succeeded on some occasions and failed in other.
Awareness of Rules and Procedures
Often we are not aware of the rules. Instead of reading the published rules, we believe what the corrupt in the offices quote as rules. Instead, we would be more confident when know the rules. As a personal example, I once lost reserved train ticket for a journey from Bangalore to Bombay. I boarded the train and explained to the ticket inspector that I had lost the ticket but could prove my identity. He demanded that I pay full fare “as per rule.” I had a little booklet named “Trains at a Glance” published by Indian Railways, which was then priced three rupees. I showed the rules printed in the book, which said that the passenger could be fined up to 25% of the fare at the discretion of the ticket inspector. I told him that I was willing to pay up to 25% of the fare and that, as per rule, he could even allow me to travel without charging fine. He did not charge any fine nor demand bribe. (Note: the rules have changed a little; and a copy of the booklet now costs Rs. 35.)
Today, we can find rules and procedures for various transactions with the government offices easily on the Internet. Often, the people in the offices themselves do not know the rules; they act as per precedence. It is good to understand the rules and also carry a copy when we visit an office.
Many transactions have defined procedures. If we study the procedures and go prepared, our confusion and anxiety diminish. It is easier to prepare the application and attachments as per procedure and present in a professional manner. When a corrupt officer finds you confident, his hope for bribe diminish. Else, he hooks on to your disturbance and makes the task look insurmountable without him going out of way to ‘help you.’
Read “The incredible story of how we got our 80 (G) exemption!” , a blog by Dr. R. Balasubramaniam about an incidence of December 1984. This is a classic story of commitment and perseverance. If we are as committed and passionate, corruption will not stand on our way. If we want to “sub-contract” our responsibilities, and also don’t want to be accountable, corruption will creep in.
On visiting an office, if the clerk/officer does not show the courtesy of offering a chair, pull one and sit before you talk. We need to feel equal before we talk. The person in the office is doing his duty and we want to have a dialogue with him. In a dialogue both the parties are equal, trying to find a solution to a common need.
Polite assertion is more effective than aggression. In the beginning request the official to spare a specific duration of time and seek his help. We need not be complaining every time we meet a person in office, but focus on our requirements. It is not a ‘problem’ but a requirement. We may not understand the constraints of the office. Be specific, clear, and complete about your requirements. If it has been progressing for a while, keep a calendar of events related with the task. When we are specific with the date, time, action, and the people involved, the listener understands our professional approach and respects us for that.
If the answer to your request is “come later,” ask for a specific date and time, preferably recorded by the officer. If he refuses to write, you can note down the details in his presence. Before leaving, tell him that you would return on the agreed date and time expecting a solution. Do not miss visiting again on that date and time.
Rights and Responsibilities
When our commitment is for a larger cause and common good, we are in a higher moral pedestal. However, we do have to represent our personal cases too – but not as a favour, but as our right. The less favours we seek, the more dignified we are.
We have rights as well as responsibilities. If we shirk our responsibilities, we lose some rights and some dignity. Then, the official may take advantage of the situation and seek a price to cover it up. Don’t show shallow urgencies for a task that can wait without harming you or anyone else. If we expect our job to be done out of turn, it is injustice to others in the queue. If we do not participate in finding a solution in the right way, we promote corruption.
When we crave for something that we do not deserve by matching with self-effort, tendency is to get it by wrong means. This degeneration of morale is bait for bribe. Craving for something is a sign of low self esteem – a hope that the ownership of some material entity or some achievement with a stamp of importance in the eyes of world would make us look important, leading to happiness. Pleasures need not bring happiness.
Every kind of gambling and lottery promote the idea that luck would reward us. How unlucky! Many governments of the world corrupt the minds of citizens with lottery schemes. For one person to win a lottery, thousands have to lose. A large percentage of money leaks in organising lottery, the organisers not adding any value – there is no productive work. If we get used with the idea that as far as we gain, it matters not who loses, we are corrupt in mind.
Corruption in Private Offices
Whereas there is much discussion about bribes given and taken in government offices, less is talked about bribes in private organisations. Many private offices reek in corruption. We have to work against corruption at these places too. The approach would be similar as in public offices, but action against is even more difficult.