Systemic Change

Since the year 2000, when N. Vittal, the then Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) declared that the week beginning from 31st October every year would be observed as the Vigilance Awareness Week, all Central and State Government establishments have started focusing on integrity issues once a year. While the Vigilance Awareness Week usually begins with a “Pledge” of rededication towards the cause of public accountability, transparency and reaffirmation of the fight against corruption at all levels, public perception remains far from encouraging as most people see it as a mere symbolic gesture, an exercise in public relation. There is also an entire tribe of skeptics when it comes to tall claims made during such occasions. In such a bleak scenario how to restore the public faith in the administrative and political machinery should therefore be the immediate task before the leadership in Nagaland. 

A few years back the then CVC N Vittal had circulated a paper ‘Applying Zero Tolerance to Corruption’ (See details on the next column) to all the State governments including Nagaland. The moot point is whether the State government has acted upon on any of the suggestions laid out to curb corruption or was it just a waste of paper or an ordeal too difficult and inconvenient to be addressed by the State bureaucracy. 

Going by the palpable lethargy within the administration, it is highly unlikely that any serious exercise can be expected from such quarters with nothing much beyond the weeklong ‘Pledge’ of rededication. 

To be fair though, it has to be accepted that the menace of corruption does not have any instant solution. It cannot be removed by a miracle or a gimmick. But then a beginning has to be made. The government would do well to take concrete legal and executive policy measures while at the same time demanding a societal intervention to cleanse public life. One fundamental issue that is even more difficult to address is the weakening of the moral values within the society. A rationale for corruption (commonly associated with bribery) has been built into the psyche of the people under the prevalent system of administration and politics. People now believe that no work however small or routine can be got or done without paying ‘something’ to ‘someone’ in government offices. The recent exposure of corrupt practice in the NPSC recruitment process only underlines the harsh truth that the corrupting of our institutions in turn has finally led to the institutionalization of corruption.

Today corruption is a low risk high profit business. The only way out is to enforce effective punishment of the corrupt. Punishment must be ‘ensured’ at all cost. The principle of zero tolerance resulting in effective and prompt punishment should increase the risk of the corrupt mind. This should be the most important single element to fight and eliminate corruption as a whole. Here, the political leadership in Nagaland must demonstrate the will and courage to clean up the system by punishing the corrupt. 

The concept presented by the paper ‘Applying Zero Tolerance to Corruption’ will hopefully become the cornerstone for a larger exercise in reforming our system. To carry this out requires more than anything else greater social and political will.