Influence peddling: Lethal form of corruption


Promoting a culture of integrity, strengthening institutions, enhancing transparency and accountability, and fostering ethical behaviour are essential components that translate into a high quality governance – be it political governance, corporate governance, socio-economic or bureaucratic governance. It requires collective will and efforts from individuals, communities, governments, and other stakeholders to handle these components in an honest and ethical manner. However, those having power or authority have a huge responsibility to create and promote a more transparent and just society.

This results in the erosion of public trust, distorts decision-making processes, and perpetuates social disorder breeding unrest in societies, communities and the region.

A slight dishonesty in decision-making processes by this section in power and enjoying unaccountable authority leads to social disorder as this conflict of interest breeds corruption. It has been mostly observed that those in the seat of power are being used as pawns by their own coterie, inside the official system or outside of it, for personal gains or to settle scores with their competitors. The most dangerous part of this form of corruption is when the authority vested with unaccountable powers misuse it as a ladder for his/her own career progression and personal gains. Normally, when we think of corruption or talk about this menace we look at money changing hands clandestinely. I don’t think money changing hands unethically or illegally is one and the only form of corruption. What I mean to say is that corruption is blatant and exists in different forms other than clandestine flow of cash from one hand to another. Consider a situation where a person is selling or allowing his coterie to sell his influence over the decision process involving a third party-be it a person or an institution.

Isn’t this peddling of influence also a type of corruption?
Of course, it is. In fact, peddling influence is the worst form of corruption. In other words, corrupt practice is beyond money matters and has some dangerous forms which can lead to complex social disorder in societies, communities and on the whole severely affect the peace and prosperity of a region. As all of us know, the menace typically involves bribery, fraud, embezzlement, nepotism, and other illicit practices that undermine the integrity, fairness, and efficiency of institutions and processes that govern a region. Favouring relatives or personal friends of an official is by all means a form of illegitimate private gain. Seeking to harm enemies becomes corruption when official powers are illegitimately used as means to this end.
Corruption is not something new. Historians have documented this menace prevalent even in the Mauryan, Mughal and Sultanate periods. Today, corruption in our societies has become so common that people now are averse to thinking of public life with it.
Let me reproduce interesting snippets of some surveys published in my earlier columns. The surveys reveal that the overall corruption score of police is the highest, but its impact is relatively low because of low interaction of a common man with this sector. The corruption score of the health sector is the second highest but its impact score is the highest, due to the high level of interaction of a common man with this sector. Lack of government vigil on the working of the hospitals, non-availability of medicines to patients and even lack of proper staff strength in these health saving institutions in terms of doctors and other professional staff has led to rampant corrupt practices. The percentage of people affected by corruption in the education sector is also worrisome. The key process that seeds corruption in this sector is the admission process. The two main dominant modes of corruption in the admissions process are through mode of donations and through use of an influential relative. In the power sector too, corruption is rampant. Improper supply of electricity and payment of excess bills are the key corruptions faced. Consumers are forced to pay the office staff and the irony is that money is directly demanded from the consumer. For a common consumer, the key actors in corruption in this sector are linesmen, officers, meter readers and billing clerks.
Land administration sector has its own style of corrupt practices. One has to wait a longtime to obtain documents. Then there is an offshoot of the money involved in various activities such as mutation, services and tax etc. In the judiciary the key form of corruption is predominantly ‘Paying money to the ‘court official’. A Transparency International survey has revealed that money sometimes needs to be paid to the public prosecutor and even the opponent lawyer. Even the ration system where people living below poverty line or for that matter those marginally living above poverty line have to pay money for new ration cards and even for faulty (less) weighing for different items. Meanwhile, the coterie around any power or authority is always engaged in peddling influence or connections for personal gain, often involving gaining favors or advantages in decision-making processes. Precisely, these influence peddlers exploit the power of decision-makers to manipulate outcomes or secure favorable treatment for themselves or others. In the end, this practice undermines the principles of fairness, transparency and accountability by allowing individuals to gain advantages through personal connections. This influence peddling results in the erosion of public trust, distorts decision-making processes, and perpetuates social disorder breeding unrest in societies, communities and the region.How to curb this influence peddling? This needs a serious thought as the menace in some cases can prove lethal. Even as there are regulations in place to prevent conflicts of interest, ensure transparency in decision-making, and restrict the undue influence of powerful individuals or groups, there is an urgent need to revisit existing measures to make stringent laws as influence peddling is behaving as a termite. Promoting transparency, accountability and integrity in government as well as private sector is crucial in combating influence peddling. Strengthening governance structures, implementing codes of conduct and enforcing anti-corruption measures through renewed accountability laws where an authority or those vested with huge powers are made accountable for their decisions can go a long way to help prevent and address this form of corruption. Remarkably, experts while showing their concern over the growing menace of influence peddling, suggest whistleblower protection mechanisms, independent oversight bodies and strong enforcement of regulations to detect and deter peddling of influence. Generally speaking, there is a need to have increased vigilance in each sector, especially at points of public interaction. We need to shift from a culture of corruption to one of accountability and that is absolutely necessary to win public confidence and is good for future prosperity. We also need some simple strategies like simplification of stringent rules and procedures, transparency and a rapid system of punishment for the corrupt. Let’s be frank that fighting corruption effectively is not an easy process. Still, vigorous and determined will and actions will go a long way to reduce it.
(The author is former Head of Corporate Communication & CSR J&K Bank.)

editorial article
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