A monster called corruption

Synopsis : The corruption eats away the national wealth that can be used in the development of the country yet it is a worldwide phenomenon that needs intense scrutiny. This blog is about corruption and how to deal with it.

A monster called corruption

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Source : Google photo

When I used to go to college every morning, I used to cross the bridge on the river which was a double decker bridge meaning the trains passed on top and the vehicular traffic below. It is a steel bridge made during the British Raj that proudly showed the Liverpool emblem on its spans. It is a bridge over which passed a highway to the next state so there was constant vehicular traffic day and night that was mostly truck traffic . We had to carefully stay on our narrow bicycle lane and hold on to the railings on the side whenever a train passed overhead shaking the bridge.

At the entrance to the bridge on both sides of the river stood a policeman who took money from the drivers of trucks and allowed them to pass. If the driver did not like to pay or not pay the right amount, he was not allowed to cross the river until he relented. The pocket of the policeman filled up quickly with money that he collected illegally the whole day and every day of the week and he was not ashamed that we noticed.

Now imagine thousands of policemen doing the same all over the country on national highways bothering truckers and collecting their loot openly and you will begin to understand the scale of the corruption nationwide. I have seen the same thing whenever I travelled by train when the ticket checker came at night on the long distance trains , sat down after checking the tickets of the passengers and then started taking money from those who had boarded the train without reservation . These people crowded the corridors bothering the passengers who had reservations and paid the bribe to stay.

The train coaches were divided among various ticket checkers to that the loot could be divided among them. This type of corruption goes on in thousands of trains nationwide in India where the train travel is the most popular mode of transport making the ticket checkers rich but I still feel ashamed to see such widespread corruption and greed everywhere in a country that was once known for its rich culture, religiosity and morally upright citizens.

The corrupt people there do not like to call it corruption but a facilitating fee that in some other countries are called the commission even if it is patently illegal to do so. You cannot get practically anything done unless you pay the bribe. The degree of corruption varies from the ordinary policeman to the train ticket checker to the clerks who work in various offices where one has to go to get the deed of sale or some such things.

In one such office the clerk kept on pulling out the drawer of his desk and pushing it shut to indicate that the bribe must be paid before he will do what he is paid to do so I was in a rebellious mood when I went to such office to register the deed of donation of my house to a religious organization. Luckily the Swamijee of the RK Mission himself went with me so they were ashamed to take bribe and processed the papers quickly.

The corruption comes in many forms. It is not simply the bribe they ask for but it shows when the milk vendor dilutes his milk with water, when the fishmonger colors the gills of fish with red tint to make it look fresh, when the salesman cheats on the scale and gives you less than what you pay for, when the cloth merchant cheats in measuring the length of cloth you buy , when they pump up chicken with water to make it heavier, when they sell you milk that carries the carcinogenic substance they inject into the cows, when people deliberately go to their office late and leave early. The corruption list is indeed a long one and new ways of corruption are being invented everyday by unscrupulous people everywhere in the world. No country is an exception.

When Howard Hughes was called to a Congressional meeting in Washington, D.C where they were investigating his business practices, he replied that wining and dining the government agents was a standard business practice so that he would get the lucrative contracts to build his planes. This is still the standard practice of business people there and in many countries. The government officers are given expensive gifts, plane tickets to Bahamas for vacation and numerous other enticements in order to get the government contracts that may run into millions.

One prince in the Middle East who lived in his palace of 200 rooms and 18 dining areas with a staff of 150 said that he was just a commissioner taking a 15 to 20 % of the total contract to buy defense equipment that explained his wealth. The makers of the equipment simply inflated the price of the planes or tanks to cover this commission thus costing the tax payers millions in additional costs so that is corruption on a very large scale.

You could see this corruption in Rumania where a dictator built a thousand room palace decorated with very expensive chandeliers and gold bath tub while the people remained very poor and jobless. He was not so lucky because the enraged people caught up with him and his wife and shot them dead on the spot just like Kaddafi.

So corruption is not just taking a bribe but comes in many forms and deprives the national exchequer billions of dollars in revenues that could be used to build schools and hospitals and infrastructure everywhere. In some countries like China, the government comes down hard on people once they catch them stealing money and taking bribes to do their job and punish them with death with just a bullet at the back of the head and bill the family for the bullet. It is quite effective as I was told people are scared to take bribe there.

But in India, a corrupt man or woman does not get this sort of punishment and often goes Scott free although I know a case in my hometown where a person got his come uppance the hardest way possible when he invited his boss to the blessing of his new house. The boss was surprised at the lavish house because he knew the salary of the person and wondered how he could afford such a house. So he ordered an audit when he got back to his office. The audit proved that this person could never have built a lavish house on his salary even if he saved it all for many years so the ill-gotten wealth was the suspect. The fellow was dismissed from the service and his pension and all benefits were frozen but this is a rare case of punishment.

Now in some countries the governments are finding new ways of fighting corruption. In India it was the standard practice for any government contractor to take a part of the salary from all the workers he employed. They worked very hard to build roads and bridges etc. but had to pay the contractor his share from their hard earned money. Now the Government pays the workers directly into their bank account where the bank issues them ATM cards.

Similarly in the Philippines the government started paying the school teachers their salaries directly into their bank accounts cutting out the middle men who were exploiting the poor teachers and taking most of their salaries just because the teachers had borrowed some money from them.

I think the corruption is closely related to the moral degeneration of people everywhere these days. When people deliberately blur the line between what is moral and immoral then corruption becomes easier on their conscience if they have any to begin with. I knew an old man who bragged that his son was earning with his two hands. When people tend to forget the difference beween the right and wrong than it becomes easier to steal. It all starts with greed and the easy way to satisfy the greed.

Some say that the poverty is the reason but I know many poor people in many countries who are not greedy and who are not corrupt. So poverty itself alone does not make a person corrupt so what does? An Indian saw the milkman putting milk filled bottles at the door steps of houses in England and collecting the empty ones so he suggested that the poor milkman could make more money by diluting the milk. The milkman was very surprised at such an immoral suggestion and asked if the Indian had children and how he would feel giving diluted milk to his children. There was no answer so he retorted that Sir we do not do such immoral things in England.

The houses collapse due to poor construction materials used by the corrupt contractors so many people die buried under the rubble due to earth quakes like in Haiti or Mexico. The irrigation canals break apart because the contractor steals money and puts less cement and more sand in Haiti. A large sugar mill just outside Port Au Prince in Haiti stands as a monument to corruption of the Duvalier government that never finished the project and letting all the imported equipment rust. The same thing happened to an unfinished factory on the way to Meroe in Sudan that is rusting and being claimed by the desert sand.

All over the world one can see the waste of tax payers’ money this way in massive failed projects due to widespread corruption. Just outside El Obeid also in Sudan where I used to work, there are plastic storage bins imported from Italy that are falling apart but no one cares. Massive steel pipes rust by the roadside near El Obeid that were never used to bring fresh water to the town from a great distance although only some 12 kms remained to complete the pipeline. I can site many such examples in many countries all pointing to corruption.

When people are not accountable then there is no end to corruption. The huge unfinished nuclear power plant in Bataan in the Philippines is one more classic example of corruption where you can see all the equipment imported at a great cost is just rusting away while the government is still paying for it after all these years.

Let us now examine the root cause of all sorts of corruption I mentioned above. I think the corruption thrives in any society where there is no accountability and where the moral compass has gone haywire. This has something to do with the degeneration of values that defines a people that honored honesty above all virtues. The basic commandments of Moses written in stones are placed in front of many public buildings in many countries but do people seriously follow those commandments? One says “Thou shall not steal” but do some people believe in it?

Mohamed said that the thieves should be punished and their hands cut off but some of the biggest commissioners are found in the Middle East living in their 200 room palaces. They are not accountable to anyone. So I see a degeneration of moral values and principles that are necessary to build the foundation of a just society where no one steals , lies or cheats others, where people are honest and help each other at the time of need.

These values are learned at home so a child growing up in a family where honesty is their hallmark then the child learns to be honest but if the child sees that the parents are dishonest who cheat others and lie all the time then the child absorbs these things as well because he is like a sponge that soaks up anything good or bad. This brings me back to the subject of religion again because all religions teach honesty, truthfulness and how to develop a strong moral character among other things.

There was a time when the religion played an important role in the life of an average person and taught him how to be a good person but we see now a decline of this role that religions used to play but do so with fewer rigors. I will not write about the scandals that plague many churches where pedophilia exists and where the priests have lost their moral ascendancy over the people in their parish because no one believes in such priests. So who will guide the common people who are looking for moral guidance? Just say Hail Mary a thousand times and sin no more kind of advice will not cut anymore because the corrupt people know that a few Hail Mary will exculpate them so that they can go on doing bad things. It reminds me of the mafia movies.

So in conclusion I think that the common people who have lost their moral compass need a strong leader who they believe in and whom they want to follow as a good example who can extricate them from the morass of immorality they find themselves in and lift the people to greater height of glory with moral rejuvenation. Such leaders are very rare now so it must start with the parents who must teach their children the good values and strong morality through their own example. Perhaps it will take a generation or two to make any country great and not just slogans.

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I am the village bard who loves to share his stories.

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