Letter from the Editor

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Corruption is omnipresent in our society. Shocked reactions to recent developments cutting across party lines do not achieve anything. How long will we ignore the elephant in the room? A day after setting up a two-member commission to probe the multi-million Adarsh housing scam in Mumbai, Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan said there was a ‘dirty nexus among government officials, politicians and builders in Mumbai’, and that these forces have the intention to ‘sell’ Mumbai. This acceptance is welcome as cleaning up can only happen if we first acknowledge the extent to which corruption is damaging our society and our efforts at inclusive development.

It is heartening to know that the UPA Government is planning to come out with a transparent public procurement policy, a system of fast-tracking cases of corruption against public servants, a check on discretionary powers of ministers and a clear stand on state funding of elections – all this in the next two months. The purpose might be to stem the political fallout of the various scams that have hit the headlines in the past few months, but if this has a catalytic effect and a more transparent system is brought into place, we will have something to cheer about. Even the RTI Act, hailed as a model act the world over, came about after a lot of heat and dust.

Where government is the client, attempts to counter corruption need to begin at the level of planning and budgeting. Output based and community-driven approaches show a lot of promise as tools to reduce corruption. At the same time they will need to be complimented by a range of other interventions including publication of procurement documents, independent and community oversight, physical audit and public-private anti-corruption partnerships. In public works procurement, in particular, there appears to be little reason to avoid free (preferably on internet) publication of procurement documents from initial design studies through bid documents to final contracts.

The upcoming Lokpal Bill, 2010, is a case in point, and will be watched closely by civil rights activists, and rightly so. As million are bandied about, we seem to be losing all sense of proportion at the systematic funelling of monies down the chain, and how a minuscule percentage reaches the targeted beneficiaries. If corruption continues to corrode governance, India cannot remain the economic powerhouse it is. It is time to stem the slide.

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