Montreal, June 15, 2005 No 155




Jayant Bhandari is an entrepreneur. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.




by Jayant Bhandari


          This was 1996. He had imported goods worth $150,000 into India. The goods landed at the New Delhi International Airport and had to be taken to Noida, a city virtually a part of Delhi, but in a different province. India, as anyone who has been there knows, does not operate as a country. There are roadblocks to cross, in and out of the cities, and in most cases even villages controlled by the police, the tax department, the City, and the forest department; all separate from each other and competing on outdoing each other in corruption.


          At the border, he was told that his documents were not in order, and since that day was a Thursday, and the next four days were holidays, he would need to wait with the truck at the border until the tax office in the city opened for clarification. Or he could pay an additional tax of $6,000, which had already been paid once. He would need to pay for engaging the truck for those four days, take the risk in case his goods got stolen, and organize security. He was no longer allowed to return. He was virtually arrested without a place to sleep in, and without access to toilet facilities.

          The alternative was to pay a bribe of $50. The alibi of the government is that it is the businessmen who create corruption by paying bribes. And that if they only refused to pay, corruption would go away.

          His other struggle was to get a telephone connection. The government owned company in Delhi would take about three years to provide a connection. In this case bribe was hefty, bureaucracy horrendous. He managed to choose a "legal" option in which anyone who paid five times the connection charges and showed foreign currency earnings would get a telephone within three months. He was pleased that his soul was in peace. When the time for installation came, the technician wrote in his service book that my friend was not at his office when the technician visited. The bribe asked for was $15.

          The postmen asked for $3 twice a year to keep the mail coming. The state-owned electricity company would not provide electricity until a bribe was paid.

There is a lot more to corruption than money

          After almost a decade of liaisoning with the government staff in India, I wonder why my fingertips are more than enough to count all the honest government officers I have ever met. And their asking for money is not the biggest problem.

"The alibi of the government is that it is the businessmen who create corruption by paying bribes. And that if they only refused to pay, corruption would go away."

          The biggest problem is the fact that it is almost impossible to approach the bureaucrat. He does not talk on the telephone, and he is usually not available in his office. When I do manage to see him in the office, it is impossible to get his ears. Almost invariably while I talk to him hurriedly to make use of the precious moments he keep his eyes off on something else in an attempt to show how busy he is. And then I am not the only one he talks to. There are usually a handful of people sitting in his office, and several telephones ringing in front of him. The bureaucrat moves to the next person or the telephone the moment time comes to say something substantial. By the time he is back with me, ages later, he seems to have forgotten everything I ever told him if he does not fail to recognise me by then, that is.

          Non-financial corruption is worse because it dehumanizes and demeans people.

          A friend of mine had a serious accident a few years back outside the huge RR Hospital of the armed forces in New Delhi. Her scooter had been hit by a military vehicle. She was refused even the first aid. She ended up going to a private hospital, and without a question they provided her first aid. Later, I went to the RR Hospital to collect her scooter and talked to the too pleasant staff ("servile," to use another expression!) at the emergency reception. They told me, most kindly and sympathetically, that they are prepared to die for the country, and for its rules. But they said that their rules prohibit them to treat civilians.

          The law insists that the first aid has to be provided. And the private hospital did exactly that.

          Another case is of a person from the armed services I once met. He said, quite proudly, how he was involved in some human rights violations. I firmly protested to him. He changed his stance and said that he was just doing a good job of what he was asked to do his job, being in the armed forces, was to follow the orders, unquestioned. If he had respect for his profession, he would have refused to accept orders that were unethical.

          While all this was going on, several NGO workers sitting in their ivory towers and university students in the West were campaigning single-mindedly against "exploitation of the poor by the businesses and multinational corporations." They were, quite hilariously, campaigning for more government control over business; businesses with vested interests contributed to those NGOs, disguising such help as corporate social responsability. And the bureaucracy was more than happy to accept these arguments, for obvious reasons.

          Those fighting for the poor have lost track of rationality, and using dishonest and lazy means are giving their support to what is the very fountainhead of exploitation, the State.