Politics: If anything, it will get worse…

Is corruption, cronyism, favouritism, siphoning state money through legal loopholes ‘à la Panama Papers’ hardwired into politicians all over the world, irrespective of their ideologies and despite their high-sounding sound bytes ‘pou mette l’ordre partout’?

‘The entire political class has let the country down through a mix of negligence and corruption…’

That’s from The Economist of April 23rd, 2016 in its leader entitled ‘The great betrayal’, which is about the political mess in Brazil.

Following a vote of 367 to 137 in the Brazilian Congress, President Dilma Rousseff is to be charged in the Senate and her impeachment is being pressed for. During her first mandate from 2011 to 2014, her Workers’ Party is alleged to have been implicated in massive bribery involving the state-controlled oil company Petrobas with money passing from contractors to politicians and political parties. She is accused of protecting former President Lula da Silva who preceded her, and whose house was raided by the Brazilian authorities.

She is also accused of ‘creative accounting’ to mask the fiscal deficit in the run-up to the general election last year. However, she still has a lot of supporters and has vowed to fight back. The flip side to this evolving story is that those who are baying for her blood are deemed to be no less tainted with their own corruption and other scandals, since ‘about 60% of congressmen face accusations of criminal wrongdoing’.

Not a pretty picture of a country that was until recently reckoned to be on the upswing as a member of the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa). And each country in this group is battling its own demons.

Russia is embroiled in Syria and is at unending loggerheads with Ukraine, whose tilt towards Western Europe is not to its liking.

China is in the grip of an economic slowdown and is grappling with the overcapacity that it generated in the boom years. And the government has come down hard on corrupt senior army generals who have not only taken bribes in the allocation of military contracts, but have also placed their own in key remunerative positions.

South Africa’s President Zuma is, like Dilma Rousseff, under fire and the Damocles sword of impeachment on two counts: an arms scandal, and the misuse of state funds to refurbish his private residence to the tune of 26 million dollars.

Is corruption, cronyism, favouritism, siphoning state money through legal loopholes à la Panama Papers hardwired into politicians all over the world, irrespective of their ideologies and despite their high-sounding sound bytes pou mette l’ordre partout?

The last member of BRICS, India, is facing the worst heatwave in nearly 30 years across several states which has already caused some hundreds of deaths, with nearly 330 million people affected by drought across several states where farmer suicides have surged. Besides, in the state of Uttarkhand, raging forest fires have already destroyed nearly 3000 acres, and nearly 1500 villages are at great risk.

On top of that, from the north to the south, kidnapping and gang-rapes shame the nation: in Muktsar, Punjab, a man walks into an office, drags a woman and goes and rapes her; in Bangaluru – the ‘Silicon Valley’ of India – a young lady speaking on her mobile as she is standing outside her hostel after work is bodily lifted and carried away by a man who suddenly appears from nowhere and also taken away to be raped. But fortunately she fights back and manages to extricate herself.

In Kerala, a graduate lady is kidnapped, raped and brutally murdered in a scenario that resembles the one in New Delhi a couple of years ago on a 23rd December, what with a sharp object being introduced in her private parts and her intestines forced out. It is over a week now, and no arrest has been made yet. In the meantime, another young woman has been gang-raped. What’s with Indian men? – one can ask. A real shame.

But it’s not over: these social and environmental catastrophes, exposing as they do the gaps in response, are not the priority of the Indian Parliament. Instead, it is the Agusta Westland chopper deal – which the new government cancelled anyway – that has occupied the prime time of the elected members. The Congress Party is under attack and on the defensive following a judgement from an Italian court on the issue, which concerns paybacks made to middlemen in terms of millions of euros. One of accused is a former chief of staff of the armed forces.

The Congress Party is accused of diluting the initial conditions set down for procurement by changing operational and service quality requirements so as to favour the Italian firm Agusta Westland, thus creating a single vendor situation. Further, the field evaluation was done outside India at the vendor’s behest! Where are the patriots that must at all times have the safety of their fighting forces as their major concern?

In the Turkish Parliament a few days ago, the members came to blows, reminding us of a similar scene in the Taiwanese parliament a few years ago. And in Iraq, the followers of a sect leader simply invaded the Parliament in session and caused mayhem.

Out there in the US, with Republican candidate Donald Trump now set to compete with Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton for the ‘prize’ of being ‘leader of the free world’, the campaign till the elections in November is expected to be the longest and dirtiest ever in American history. And yet America has always prided itself on the uniqueness and objectivity of its electoral process. Donald Trump has criticized it very severely.

All this leads us to agree with the views expressed by Ongama Mtimka, Lecturer, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University writing about ‘State capture’ recently. A few extracts from his article will reveal that the realities they purvey apply to our local situation as well.

He cites Francis Fukuyama to say that, as in tribal systems, ‘access to resources is determined by personal relationships with the ruler, while it should be impersonal in fully “developed” states. In other words merit, vis-à-vis the relationship with the ruler, determines distribution of resources when states have developed beyond tribal organisation. Political decay sets in when developed and impersonal institutions degenerate into personal fiefdoms, with kinship and friendship being reintroduced as determinants of fortune within the polity’.

And even in the US! Where ‘Fukuyama cites an example of how the US seems unable to have a robust regulatory framework for its banking sector because banks fund political parties. And the end result is seldom good’.

He also alludes to ‘the efforts of a small number of firms (or such groups as the military, ethnic groups and kleptocratic politicians) to shape the rules of the game to their advantage through illicit, nontransparent provision of private gains to public officials. Examples of such behaviour include the private purchase of legislative votes, executive decrees, court decisions and illicit political party funding’.

More damning is his observation that ‘in a nutshell, it denotes holding the state ransom to the private desires of a particular group or for their selfish gains. A level of aggression and foul play is implied’.

Yes indeed, dirty politics is going to get dirtier, alas.

* Published in print edition on 6 May 2016

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