I was having a light conversation with a group of friends recently. We started off discussing things that have changed over the last decade or so. Soon the conversation took a change in direction. We found ourselves boasting to each other on how easy it was (and still is) for each of us to get out of trouble (so to speak) or get a ‘favour’ done just by offering a small bribe. The vigour in which we spoke of our accomplishments in this area of life told me that bribery & corruption is often misquoted in civil society. Much has changed in this country over the years, but corruption is one thing that remains constant.
It seems the definition of corruption (In its wider sense, corruption includes bribery) rests on two factors -how much’ and ‘who’. For instance, if the bribe was Rs.500 and dealt out by me to get myself out of some immediate misfortune, it’s not regarded as corruption. Although if it were a sum of Rs.5 million dealt out to some ‘big-shot’ government official to win a business deal, it is undoubtedly regarded as corruption. What’s more, the giver of the bribe is not seen as the felon, unlike the receiver. The basic meaning of corruption is dishonesty. Whether it be Rs.500 or Rs. 5 million a bribe is a bribe, while both the giver and the receiver are partners in crime. Our refusal to accept this moral principle is costing us as a nation. We may argue that the former doesn’t hurt anyone while the latter would deprive many of much. The problem with that argument is that it’s based on short-sightedness.
Our country has become accustomed to giving, receiving and asking for ‘bribes’. Our children see it and hear their parents talk bashfully about giving some money or gift to ‘get-things-done’. Our minds are warped, and our culture shaped by previous success stories to the point that we not only indulge freely in ‘low-level corruption’ but also teach it by example to our children and boast of it. But then, we have the audacity to point our fingers at someone else in the name of justice with the hypocritic cry “That Thief”.
So we may ask, what’s the harm in offering small incentives in exchange for a dishonest favour? The harm is that in doing so, we are moving bribery and corruption from being a ‘problem’ into being a ‘lifestyle’. A lifestyle is not easily eradicated in contrast to a problem. A lifestyle cannot be curtailed simply by bringing in new laws, enforcing old ones or awareness programs. The solution is much deeper, but certainly not beyond our reach. What is the solution? I shall explore this in my next article.