Wednesday, November 22, 2017
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denigrate bribe takers

The continuing controversy on the subject of collecting commissions on the purchase of VVIP helicopters, once again focuses our attention on the subject of giving and taking bribes. Before venturing into this territory, once must be clear on some facts. First, with regard to major defence deals bribes are always paid. They may not be paid to politicians although in most countries, the higher the authority, the greater the corruption. Our politicians have in the past taken huge amounts of commissions which is what bribes are euphemistically called. They may justify their conscience by saying they are mainly collecting donations for the party but it is almost certain that half the money goes to meet personal life styles. Madhu Koda never seems to have made any bones about it. We cannot assert anything as many matters are in courts but newspapers have said a lot of things and we may safely make some assumptions.

 

In the days of quota and license, politicians were far more aggressive in part because the media and newspapers were not invested with an investigative streak. Back in days when sugar was controlled Pepsi and Coca Cola both were said to have paid equal amounts to the Minister who controlled their sugar allocations. Krishna Menon was said to have made huge amounts of money in the purchase of used WW II jeeps. When Bob Geldof started buying trucks to ferry much needed food grains to Ethiopia, he got ripped off by middlemen. Kuwait sent him trucks that cost as much to repair as to buy. The Kuwaitis had collected a lot of “commission”. No government is untouched by this disease. In the US toilet seats for naval ships were purchased at the rate of $600.00 each when right price was $25.00. In a majority of cases these bribes, commissions or simply cuts are under- the- table deals that even those signing contracts are often not aware of.

Most democracies have passed laws making it illegal to give or take commissions. That law, much like our dowry and untouchability laws, is not worth the paper that it is written on. Commissions are taken in almost every deal and elaborate schemes are evolved to prevent any observer except the most persistent from getting at the truth. It is only incompetents (like a former Communication Minister in our country) who end up getting caught. A simple point will prove this. Why are Swiss banks so reticent about letting us have the names of huge account holders? Their economy is based on taking in unexplained and tax evasion money and they are not going to be so easy to persuade. United States has, as of now, extracted an agreement about American citizens with big accounts in Switzerland. This also has been after a decade of effort. Other countries lower down the scale of the pecking order will face a much harder time. For rich Indians Mauritius and Cayman have now become tax havens and those places will take a long time to see reason.

We are all getting ready for 2014. Some are eager and hopeful, some say that this is a periodic exercise that has only the most dubious ramifications for our country and yet others say that this is a “tamasha” that is best ignored, since it hardly impacts on our lives. Whatever be our perception, the fact remains that in about a year’s time we shall campaigning and mud-slinging and also more covert forms of skullduggery that we call election campaigns will hold the stage. Commission or bribe is just a matter of cash though that is the bottom line. Alcohol plays a big part and it is surprising what a case of scotch can achieve in the bureaucratic circles. A lot of people here are babus and for them a case of scotch is pure manna from heaven.

When I was in the Food Department, an embassy official came to see me. He wanted data of purchase and sales of wheat and stocks in hand. With my superior’s approval I gave him last ten years data minus the immediate previous two years. He came back the next day saying the Embassy had all the data and also the ones for the last two years. What he needed was the immediate figures and what we intended to import. Shocked I told my secretary to probe; and the leaks were traced to a duplicating machine operator. His price was six bottles of Scotch. From such humble levels this business has moved to higher levels. There has been talk that two senior officers who retired from the Finance within a year of each other got Reliance stocks from Dhirubhai at Rs10/- per share for services rendered. They purchased a hundred shares. There are now worth ten lakhs. Natwar Singh was said to have made a “kill” with a introductory letter from Sonia Gandhi but such big people often get away. The most brazen case is that of Admiral Nanda who has retired from the navy and set up a “consulting” firm in UK. He knows about all defence deals in the offing and usually operates through third parties who cannot be traced back to him. We all know that his grandson driving a BMW was involved in a hit and run case and paid compensation running into over ten lakhs. The last Army chief was honest and when on the day he was due to retire a former colleague came to offer him a huge sum of money for forwarding some papers, he at once went to the Defence Minister. CBI is enquiring into the matter but such cases are not easy to work out. What in investigative parlance is called “smoking gun” is never easy to find.

There is corruption everywhere. A school wants to be made a centre to conduct High school examinations of the Board. The object is to collect money from students and allow copying. We have reduced our noble profession of education to this absurd level. Those who come to inspect also get bribes either to come and certify or to not come at all. As we all know the gang rape case in Delhi was worked out because the police kept a list of unlicensed buses which were allowed to carry passengers. The list came in handy for weekly collection of bribes. The bus in which the gang rape took place was one such vehicle and it could be identified only by recourse to this “secret” list. There is a lot of bribery even among diehard extremists who claim to follow the dictates of a religion. We all know what our so called religious people do. You have to pay even to attend Baba Ramdev yoga classes and that too in thousands. The national reputation of the Irrigation and the public development departments are so well known that it is now accepted as a part of their lifestyle. One who does not take “commission” in those departments is got rid of in a hurry. The power department is no saint either. The tragedy is that politicians have now muscled in for the take and that has made things worse since politicians at least at the state level have a life span of only five years.
In this climate if a couple of cousins who routinely do “consultancy” for major internationals who sell power or defence equipment for a fee can hardly be taken to task. The unfortunate element here is that these two cousins had a third cousin who was our Air Chief Marshall. It is not yet clear if the latter benefitted from the work of his two cousins. What is true and correct is that our Air Chief Marshall should have informed the government before he was appointed to the post that he had two cousins in the consultancy business. He should have scrupulously insulated himself from those two cousins of his. He is facing flak for possibly no fault of his because of a major omission. In the journalistic community he is unlikely to have any friends since here the hunger is always for the extreme aspects of every piece of news. We must fault our media on this and especially the electronic one. We have learnt no lesson from the fact that the handlers in Pakistan were using her eye witness reports to direct the activities of the terrorists at the Taj, one day in November 2008. Their reports on communally charged matters also give needless publicity to sensitive matters. And when it comes to bribes, they feel it is they, the media, who have hit the gold mine. They go chasing after uncertain leads and bring down a large number of leads that could at best have been ignored.

A lot of ink has already been spilled on the issue of corruption and bribes. If this subject is being written about again, it is only because those involved have learnt nothing and think that no one knows when they collect rental income. Everyone knows who is and who is not corrupt. It is only the corrupt who wallow in the belief that their mischief is going undetected. Besides such bribe takers always have some people with a grudge or two. If they do not say anything it is mostly because they themselves do not have clean hands or are not getting the clinching evidence. Just as we have resolved to say no to a rapist let us also commit ourselves to denigrate the bribe taker no matter what his status in society.

(Former Food Security Consultant with FAO of the UN) 

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