By T. R. Raghunandan:
Like diseases and pathogens, it is essential that various types of corruption are identified and classified, based on their characteristics. The analogy with medical care goes further because different types of corruption require different strategies and medications for being effectively curbed and controlled, if not eliminated altogether.
Several authorities have classified corruption based on appropriate criteria, such as who they impact, what processes they affect and how they may be best tackled. A simple classification is based upon a combination of these criteria and a good place to start is to divide acts of corruption into those that primarily affect state actions and those that affect the private sector. Of course, this is not a neat, watertight separation because plenty of corruption involves the interphase between the government and private corporates or professional entities.
Let us look at corruption in the public sector first. The most common experiences of corruption are those that concern the daily transactions that a citizen may engage in, with the government; for example, certification and identification services and licencing. The ordinary citizen requires several certifications at different stages in their life. Birth, death and life certificates come readily to mind. Then there are others too, like caste certificates, residence certificates and domicile certificates, and those that certify that a person is not an insolvent, such as income certificates, insolvency certificates, or those that ensure properties are not subject to any encumbrances, or that a particular individual has a greater claim to properties, through a succession certificate.
The variety of certificates that an individual may require, certainly in a procedure-gridlocked country such as India, may exceed more than 50 over any individual’s life span. They range from those that certify a certain status or identity, like a driving licence, a passport, a ration card, to licencing services related to the permissions that an individual may require to undertake certain actions, such as constructing a house or commencing a business.
Clearances may be required from various departments, such as the Pollution Control Board, the Municipality, power utility, water utility and so on before someone starts a new business venture. The government also delivers many services, such as food rations at subsidised prices, education, nutrition and protection. Accessing these services, say, to obtain admission in a school run by the government, or filing a police complaint or reporting a crime is a transaction that can be prone to corruption.
The second kind of corruption touches the procurement actions of the government. The government is typically the largest buyer in the market; procuring a spectrum of products and services, ranging from paper clips to dam building contracts, from fighter aircraft to road laying contracts. Typically, these transactions, if corrupt, can increase the burden on the taxpayer’s money, but this is not something that an individual will experience first hand, unlike say obtaining a certificate or issuing a licence. Procurement corruption requires an entirely different strategy for its control.
The third kind of transaction that may be corruption-prone is the converse of procurement transactions; namely, when the government sells goods and services. These also cover a wide range of scale and value. The government sells waste paper for recycling and also bandwidth on the airwaves for mobile telephony. Mining rights are sold, and so are electricity, tourist locations, government lands. Again, corruption related to these transactions does not affect citizens directly, but short-selling by the government of assets, such as mineral resources, or airwaves, can seriously compromise citizen interest.
The fourth kind of corruption involves the regulatory activities of the government. Gone are the days when only the judicial arm of the government dealt with the settlement of disputes. A plethora of generalist and specialist regulatory authorities now adjudicate on issues and disputes relating to various transactions, whether it is delay in obtaining a service, filing an application for admission to a school under the Right to Education Act, disputes relating to tariff fixation for power supply, insurance-related disputes, house dwelling related conflicts, or matters of domestic relevance, such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and succession.
Fifth kind of corruption concerns the political arena. These do not necessarily fall squarely in the domain of the public sphere, but nevertheless, in a democracy, can seriously undermine the setting and execution of policy. That, in turn, leads to corruption that is so large, overarching and yet nebulous – the corruption that relates to matters concerning the nation as a whole, a kind of corruption that is a mélange of all other forms of corruption; namely, policy corruption and state capture.
Each one of these forms of corruption requires a different approach to be tackled effectively.
Note: The author is the Advisor to the Accountability Initiative. This article was originally posted here.