India: Speaking up for integrity

After the Arab Spring, an Indian Summer. In recent weeks, thousands of people have taken to the streets to support an Indian activist's calls for stronger anti-corruption legislation, in the form of the Jan Lokpal bill, which would set up an independent anti-corruption body, and to protest his initial arrest on 16 August 2011.

Anna Hazare first went on hunger strike after a series of political corruption scandals rocked the country in quick succession. Hazare started a debate that has engulfed an entire country: what does it take to fight corruption at all levels of society? What can governments, citizens and civil society do to make a real difference?

Finding solutions to corruption

Corruption takes a huge toll on India’s economy. Global Financial Integrity reports that US $19 billion in illicit money leaves the country each year. Our 2010 Global Corruption Barometer shows that corruption is also a daily burden for India’s citizens: 54 per cent of households paid a bribe in a 12 month period to receive basic services.

Only 25 per cent, meanwhile, think that their government’s efforts to fight corruption have been effective. The question for Indian leaders is how to move from commitments made to a real reduction of corruption in the lives of Indian citizens?

Civil society organisations see the Jan Lokpal bill as a means to meet the obligations of the UN Convention against Corruption, which India ratified in May 2011, particularly by installing mechanisms for the investigation and prosecution of corruption.

Anti-corruption heroes

In 2003, Anna Hazare received a Transparency International Integrity Award as recognition of his campaigns against corrupt officials. Our Integrity Awards honour the bravery of individuals and organisations around the globe whose efforts are making a real difference in the fight against corruption. The 2011 awards will be presented in Vienna this November.

Laws alone will not stop corruption: political leadership and citizen participation are crucial. India’s vibrant democracy can be its best weapon against corruption. Our survey shows that 74 per cent of people in India could imagine themselves getting involved personally in the fight against corruption, far more than the Asia-Pacific regional average of 31 per cent and a global average of 49 per cent.

Communities and civil society groups can do much more when backed up by strong laws, and need to have faith that people who report corruption will be protected, and those reported on will be investigated.

Anti-corruption rules can empower the poor

Petty bribery hits the Indian poor hardest, an injustice heightened by the fact that they are often asked for bribes to access services that should be free. A study carried out by our chapter, Transparency International India, indicates that poor households paid 9 billion rupees (US $205 million) in bribes to access basic services.

In response, Transparency International India launched a grassroots initiative to help 8,000 impoverished rural families use their right to demand information from public officials as a weapon against bribery.

The Pahal (“beginning”) programme has made villagers more aware of their rights while encouraging them to participate more in local processes. Communities have used their right to information to expose and counter corruption by carrying out social audits of government programmes. In one village, half the population turned out to scrutinise public expenditure on an education support programme, identifying falsified records, payments to false names and evidence of bribery.

Two field experiments in Delhi by Yale University researchers showed that Indian citizens who made right to information requests while applying for certain public services were more likely to have successful applications.

The initiative shows how anti-corruption measures like those proposed in the anti-corruption Jan Lokpal bill can have an impact, if they allow for robust civil society involvement. Volunteers are trained to raise rural communities’ awareness of right to information laws and how these can be used to find out which services they are entitled to. While continuing to operate in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar states, in July 2011 Pahal was expanded to a fifth Indian state, Tamil Nadu.

Sealing political commitments, sustaining political will

The Indian public view political parties, closely followed by parliament, as the most corrupt institution in their country. Diminishing faith in politicians can trigger a destructive cycle where reform-minded politicians struggle to convince voters of their good intentions, and citizens see little point trying to hold politicians to their promises.

To rebuild credibility and trust, we have helped communities and committed public officials come together around what we call a Development Pact. These negotiated public agreements commit local politicians and public officials to delivering on priorities, as set out by the local communities. Priorities include anything from the building of community halls, schools, roads and health centres to the disclosure of information about social support programmes.

More than 20 Development Pacts have been signed in three Indian states, with local politicians and public officials as “champions” of integrity. In many pacts, villagers and communities have closely cooperated with local leaders and also monitored the implementation of the pact. Communities have alerted the “champions” when work did not go to plan, demanding investigations when contractors used poor material or did not carry out their work.

Goals agreed in the pacts have had a direct impact on the lives of thousands of people in many communities, from the new school building in Chhattisgarh to a sanitation campaign in Rajnagar. Many of the politicians involved believe that signing the pacts helped assure their election, providing a reward for demonstrating political will to deliver on promises.

An avenue for voicing complaints

With national and state anti-corruption bodies lacking independence, power and resources, and new whistleblower protection yet to come into force, citizens need help addressing corruption.

Our chapter has set up telephone help-lines to address the grievances of corruption victims in two Indian states: Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand.

They have received calls about police and officials refusing to register their complaints, and requests for advice about dealing with extortion by public servants and filing right to information requests.

The Tamil Nadu helpline has dealt with 3,000 complaints so far, with calls from neighbouring states routine.

To expand its support to citizens confronting corruption, the chapter plans to begin Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres in Delhi and Orissa soon.

Resources

Press release: Transparency International India condemns the arrest of Anna Hazare

Our blog posts on India and development pacts

Transparency International India’s work on Integrity Pacts

Interview with Anupama Jha, Executive Director, TI India

Video: TI Chair Huguette Labelle on corruption in India

The Economic Times:'The Jan Lokpal Bill can do this'

The Guardian: Corruption in India: 'All your life you pay for things that should be free'

CNN Business 360 blog: 'How does corruption rank with global economies?'

For any press enquiries please contact press@transparency.org

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