By Nita Chicooree
While developed countries are racking their brains to face the gloomy horizon projected by an ailing economy and much doubt hovers over the panacea debated by a host of specialists in world economic affairs, developing and emerging countries are not only faced with the evil of corruption that undermines the very principle of good governance and sound institutions but also have to brace themselves to surf on floating markets.
The question of transparency is a crucial element in the conduct of political and economic affairs. A high-ranking status in various fields awarded by international surveys which draw comparisons with less performing countries may well satisfy the authorities but this cannot dissipate apprehensions and suspicion over rampant corruption, conflict of interests, embezzlement, squandering of public funds and wrongdoings that are committed with impunity.
Decades of mild and fragmented expression of public outrage have been an encouragement to those who hold the reins of power and their acolytes in public and private bodies. A prolonged silence may lead to general apathy and disarm people even before war is declared against the scourge of corruption. Opacity and decades-old habits of unaccountability may set in forever, with grave and damaging consequences on public morale if indifference does not give way to a deep consciousness of an indispensable public participation in matters of prime concern to the national interest. Up to now, it has been customary for the authorities to govern within a closed circle in a conspicuous absence of talks with the population – as if they did not owe any explanation to anyone.
If the country gets hopelessly mired in such a state of affairs, the list of ‘inside stories’ and the usual monologues will go on in a most cynical style. A common platform should be set up to sensitize citizens and maintain vigilance over the conduct of public affairs. The favourable impression of foreign specialists should not overweigh our inside knowledge of the mindset that prevails in the high sphere of policy-makers.
First, information on property owned by politicians should be made available to the press, as well as bank accounts, insurance contracts and various forms of assets belonging to them and their close relatives. How a few politicians, especially those who have never taken up any other career except politics in Mauritius, managed to send their sons, daughters and close relatives to universities in Great Britain and France is still mind-blowing. The press should also have the means to investigate in alleged corrupt practices of bribery given to high office holders in return for allotting contracts to private or foreign companies.
Press disclosure of free-masonry membership among the highest authorities in public and private sectors will be most welcome. Free-masonry membership has declined in Britain but it is still expanding in France. The initial lofty ideals it was founded on have gradually become a pretext for seekers of self-interest to feather their own nests. Today, it all boils down to comradeship in nepotism and cronyism. A number of worthless and brainless fellows infest free-masonry. Meet a few of them in France or Reunion, you get the names of those who occupy high ranking positions in various bodies including embassies as well as the identity of their Mauritian ‘brothers’. Why some people need a foreign religious basis to promote so-called universal values does not come as a surprise to us; any association which hoists them up in a closed privileged circle and gives them the status and comfortable feeling of belonging to a special breed enhances their self-image.
Parastatal bodies set up by top political leaders to address wrongdoings are not delivering. The public cannot be fooled into believing that the rulers are all clean. The press will be most useful to the public in disclosing the high salaries that have been pumped into those committees and the amount of work done by them over the past decades. Give the public a list of various reports entrusted to local and foreign experts and the huge sums drained down in the process.
What we need is a group of dynamic outspoken people who denounce corruption and demand transparency. Such a movement was spearheaded by Anna Hazare in India last year and sparked off waves of anti-corruption protests in several countries. The movement has been labelled ‘street fascism’, a ‘parallel government’ dictating rules to elected members of Parliament in a most ‘undemocratic’ style. Right questions should be asked. Is it democratic to use official positions to indulge in illegal self-enrichment and cover up crony capitalists who amass wealth and stash it away in Swiss banks and foreign tax havens? Is it undemocratic to fight against immoral corrupt practices at every level of administration, at the central and state level?
In India, a nationwide tour of anti-corruption campaign and fasting is set to start in the third week of July this year. On account of frail health, Annaji is not fasting. The movement is spearheaded by Prashant Bushan, a man the government is said to fear and loathe in equal measure. Currently, 162 Lok Sabha members and 39 Rajya Sabha members have cases against them. The reason why Lokpal Bill is constantly postponed is that a high number of MPs will end up in jail. Despite government probe into his multi-crore yoga empire, Swami Ramdev is also joining hands with Anna team and will start touring villages and towns to sensitize public opinion.
A legalistic approach to fight against corruption is not enough, organizers say. Their objective is to get at the root causes and denounce the whole logic of political-corporate nexus. The focus is on the economic élite and their activities. While Swami Ramdev advocates restraint, the most outspoken leaders in Anna team are bent on giving names to the public; they no longer believe in vague attacks on the entire political class. Attacks will be sharp and targeted. The PM’s involvement in Coalgate scam when he was Coal Minister and attack on 13 Cabinet members is just the beginning, organizers warn.
‘Identify the corrupt and give names’ is the new strategy adopted in a crusade undertaken in an unwavering spirit of patriotism. The movement is most likely to give voice to the voiceless in other countries where strong action is needed to clean up the rot that is deeply entrenched in governing bodies.
* Published in print edition on 8 June 2012