Dr M. D. Thomas
December 9 is marked as ‘International Anti-Corruption Day’. The day was designated by United Nations General Assembly in October 2003, after the Convention against corruption. The day was adopted after having been negotiated with the member states and came into effect in December 2005.
The ‘United Nations Convention against Corruption’ is an international anti-corruption multilateral treaty. This is the only legally binding treaty of the kind in the world. Raising awareness about corruption, in view of combating and preventing it, is the objective of the day as well as of the Convention.
International Anti-Corruption Day emphasizes the rights and responsibilities of all persons and sectors. It invites States, government officials, civil servants, law enforcement officers, media representatives, the private sector, civil society, academia, the public and youth to play their role in dealing with corruption.
The word ‘corruption’ means ‘dishonest and immoral behaviour or activities’. It is aimed at acquiring illicit benefits or personal gains. In the public forum, it is undertaken by a person or an organization holding a position of authority. It is an abuse of power and is a criminal offense.
More often than not, corruption is understood as having to do with money only. But, it is not so. Corruption is a ‘perversion’ of thought, word and deed, at its core. It includes bribery, lobbying, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, parochialism, patronage, influence peddling, graft, misappropriation, and the like, as well.
Corruption is a complex phenomenon. It affects all areas of the society. It involves all countries, too. It soaks up social, political, ethical, spiritual and economic arenas. Corruption demoralizes democratic institutions, slows down economic development and contributes to governmental instability.
Besides, corruption distorts electoral processes, perverts the rule of law and creates bureaucratic marsh that survives on bribes. Foreign direct investment is discouraged, small businesses within the country, like ‘start-ups’, do not take off and economic development gets stunted, all because of corruption.
The theme of the United Nations for anti-corruption of the year 2021 is ‘Your right, your role: Say no to corruption’. A six-week campaign that started at the beginning of November aims to highlight the role of key stakeholders and individuals in preventing and countering corruption in line with the above theme.
International Anti-corruption Day is geared towards ‘reporting corruption, exposing corrupt activities and risks that may otherwise remain hidden’. It also aims at keeping the public sector honest, transparent and accountable. It helps stop dishonest practices and ensures that public sector employees act in the public interest.
In addition, preventing corruption unlocks progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals as per the United Nations. It helps protect our planet, creates jobs, achieves gender equality and secures wider access to essential services, such as healthcare and education.
‘Speaking up and saying no to corruption’ requires protection from retaliation. The United Nations Convention against Corruption lays emphasis on the responsibility of Governments to put in place effective whistle-blower protection. Policies, measures and systems have to be in position to the above effect.
‘Ombudsman’ is a government official who deals with complaints made by ordinary people against public organizations. Ombudsmen are independent, free and impartial and they do not take sides. The idea of ‘ombudsman’ emerged from Nordic countries. The word means ‘representative’.
Further, the word ‘ombudsman’ derives from Old Norse words ‘umboth’ and ‘mathr’, meaning ‘commission’ and ‘man’, respectively. Sweden created the office in the constitution of 1809, appointed by the legislature. Sweden is the first country in the world to appoint an independent official as ombudsman, to investigate complaints against government officials and agencies.
In India, law minister Ashok Kumar Sen first proposed the notion of constitutional ‘ombudsman’ in early 1960s. The terms ‘Lokpal’ and ‘Lokayukta’ were brainstormed by Dr L. M. Singhvi, as well. The Indian ‘Ombudsman’ is known as the ‘Lokpal’ or ‘Lokayukta’. Retired Supreme Court judge Pinaki Chandra Ghose was appointed the first Lokpal of India by a committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and Lok Sabha Speaker on 23 March 2019.
As per the annual Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International, Denmark is the least corrupt country in the world, followed by New Zealand. They stand ranking consistently high in international financial transparency. The most perceived corrupt countries in the world are Somalia and South Sudan, scoring 12 out of 100, in 2020. India is ranked at 80th position out of 180 countries in 2019.
Within India, Maharashtra has the highest reported corruption cases in 2020, followed by Rajasthan. Kerala is found among one of the least corrupt states in the country. Considering India in general, the amount of Indian black money currently present in Swiss and other offshore banks is estimated to be 300 lakh crores, equivalent to 1.5 trillion US dollars.
Some of the specific causes of corruption in India are excessive regulations, complicated tax and licensing systems, numerous government departments with dense bureaucracy and discretionary powers, monopoly of government controlled institutions on certain goods and services delivery and the lack of transparent laws and processes.
‘Stop corruption, save India’ has been a prominent campaign in India. Anti-corruption movement often witnesses a series of demonstrations and protests across India. They have been oriented to establishing a strong legislation, along with enforcement against perceived endemic political corruption.
Misconduct and wrongdoing steals away the valuable resources of the society. Only effective, accountable and transparent institutions can usher in a culture of integrity and fairness. It is the shared responsibility of the nations to fight against this all-round ethical and social menace. It is the duty of every single person, young and old, to prevent and counter corruption, in order to promote resilience and integrity at all levels of personal and social life.
On the occasion of ‘International Anti-Corruption Day’, it is the duty of all the citizens of India and the world beyond, to resolve to refrain from corruption in thought, word and deed and abide by sound ethical values, so that humanity may not be allowed to get corrupted.
May the observance of ‘International Anti-corruption Day’ motivate and empower the humans to remain transparent, honest and clean in their ways in life! May the same reduce the intensity of corruption in India and beyond! May it be ensured that our country and the society be better for us to have our being!
* The author is Director, ‘Institute of Harmony and Peace Studies’, New Delhi, and is grounded in the diverse ‘disciplines of humanities’. He has been committed to ‘cross-cultural perspectives, cross-scriptural values, constitutional values, interfaith relations, social ethics, communal harmony, national integration and social harmony’, for the past over 40 years.