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Saturday, Aug 31, 2002

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Nothing to hide in catwalk of the corrupt

D. Murali

TRANSPARENCY International, founded in 1993, `is the only global non-governmental and not-for-profit organisation devoted solely to curbing corruption', reads the latest report from TI, and I am sceptical not just about the `only' claim. Not because it has awarded low scores to India, putting it in the top 30 blacklist, but for other reasons too.

In the recent past, the survey has attracted as much attention as a beauty pageant. Perhaps, the results are as skewed, or too much hyped about. Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2002 score from TI relates to perceptions of the degree of corruption as seen by business people and risk analysts, and ranges between 10 (highly clean) and 0 (highly corrupt). It is a survey of polls taken from 2000 to 2002 by nine independent institutions.

The organisation banks on sources such as the World Bank, Gallup and PWC and its latest output covers a record number of 102 countries, giving almost 70 of them less than 50 per cent score. The TI chairman, Mr Peter Eigen, lamented that political elites and their cronies continue to take kickbacks at every opportunity. "Hand in glove with corrupt business people, they are trapping whole nations in poverty and hampering sustainable development," he said. Corruption is perceived to be dangerously high in poor parts of the world, naturally. But, revealingly, also in many countries whose firms invest in developing nations.

Flaunted as the poll of polls, it covers barely half the more than 200 sovereign nations, and Mr Peter Eigen suspects that they could "be very corrupt" since there is no sufficient data about them. It comes as no great news that the `corrupt political elite' in the developing world work hand-in-hand with `greedy businesspeople and unscrupulous investors' who put private gain before public good.

It is interesting that Pakistan News Service touts the headline "India among 30 most corrupt countries" in its Islamabad dateline story. It talks about the low score of India at 2.7 on a scale of ten, standing 71st along with Russia, Zimbabwe and Tanzania among others in the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2002. It doesn't mention Pakistan and its lower score at 2.6, and that could be condoned as an understandable aberration.

It should come as no surprise for those who trawl the website of TI to know that it has received contributions, among others, from Andersen and Enron. Again, a puzzle to solve is how the US that has been going through accounting tremors manages to score high on the TI scale.

Well, since there is a bribe giver for every bribe taker, the CPI has to be read along with the Bribe Payers Index (BPI), which addresses the propensity of companies from top exporting countries to bribe in emerging markets. The BPI 2002 that was out about three months back revealed high levels of bribery by firms from Russia, China, Taiwan and South Korea, closely followed by Italy, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Japan, the US and France.

TI's methodology reveals that all sources generally defined corruption as the misuse of public power for private benefit, for example bribing of public officials, kickbacks in public procurement, or embezzlement of public funds.

But many would agree that insider trading, profit massaging and company sinking - all of which are only too common in the private sector — could be bigger culprits when it comes to shaping a society's moral fibre. For there is a difference between a low-paid public servant getting a fiver on the side, and a tycoon making a corporate killing.

One does not preach religion to empty stomachs, nor ethics to the emaciated. Clean practices are as much a luxury as listening to Gita lectures in an air-conditioned hall, with a chauffeur waiting in the portico idling a company car.

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