Friday, 20 January 2012

A message to Advocates against Corruption

(corruption index from 2010 ref:
It is true that corruption, bribes and inefficient governance have been the bane of India as it transitioned to a Republic. In the last five decades of independence, our growth has been stalled, primarily due to several internal factors. Corruption - the illegal use of office to build one's own wealth or empower the treasury is deeply rooted in history.

So here are some quotes on 'Governance' from the Arthashastra, written by Kautilya (translated, edited, published by L N Rangarajan {pp. 269 - 274} ) with the original written work dating to 150 CE, related to the Mauryan empire (c. 321 BCE - 185 BCE ). This work differs from an earlier translation by Kangle, which is more literal and does not attempt to add context to pronouns. Chanakyan, was synonymously used later with Machiavellian originally. This alternate name was born much later according to research. It is generally presumed that Kautilya and Chanakya are aliases.

Here are some sections, cut from the book for the enlightenment of the Reader.

"Special Levies, Taxes and Collections"

A King, who finds himself in great financial difficulty, may collect [additional] revenue [using the methods described below]. {5.2.1}

On Farmers - usually requiring them to pay a third of their produce as tax or a varied proportion as the King may decree.

Force Compulsory Purchase - making the Government earn money on what the people may not want to buy especially in terms of food grains.

Levies on Merchants, Craftsmen and Professionals - Actors, Courtesans - 50% of their revenue, Fixed levies on Precious Gems, Precious Metals, other Liquids and Metals, Traders, Commodities like wood. 

Levies on Livestock Owners - for Cows, 10%, Small Animals, 16%, Cocks and Pigeons 50%
Miscellaneous - Prostitution being legal, Brothel owners shall on command of the King, send the youngest and most beautiful to collect additional revenue*.

Voluntary Contributions - All the Wealthy shall give as much of their wealth as feasible as the King demands.
Expropriating Temple Property - The King shall annex Temple property that has not been donated by "The King" to Brahmins and directly account them in the Treasury.

Exploiting the Gullibility of People - People will be forced to contribute to strange ventures like Temples built overnight, Unnatural Happenings explained as Divine phenomena, Frightening People with (Evil Spirits) requiring an "offering" to ward it off, Selling Remedies against (Evil Spirits), Poison water and blame the illness on a Curse or Evil and sell the antidote.

Cheating to Collect Revenue - When a person stands , of a crime, (a) use women to entrap and blackmail him/her, (b) Cause rivalry within families causing one to murder another (c) Force a [criminally] condemned to accuse someone as a Traitor and then cease his wealth (d) Kill a condemned person and blame it on one as a Traitor (d) Accuse one as a Traitor of Child sacrifice, seize his wealth. {summary of 5.2.52 - 68}

The last section listed above: (Cheating to collect revenue) is supposed to be used only against Criminals and (real) Traitors, although its potential to misuse is imaginable.

One must not belittle the Arthashastra, for Artha follows Dharma and it is the duty of a King to keep his subjects happy, and resort to the above methods that seem to tread on the fine line between ethical and unethical only when in dire straits. Law was always written to provide means to keep the subjects comfortable (if not happy) and therefore the King had to be the most comfortable even if it were an ideal Oligarchy.

He also outlined twenty-eight of the forty ways of stealing from the public, which in modern time is considered corruption or illegal manipulation of funds intended for the Government Treasury. This is particularly from a table summarizing {2.8.20,21} in L N Rangarajan's translation.

Revenue Collection
  1. Revenue due on a given date is allowed to be paid later [for a consideration].
  2. Revenue not due on a given date is collected earlier by force [to compensate the above.]
  3. Revenue due is suppressed (after collecting a bribe.)
  4. Revenue not due is forcibly collected. (after not receiving a bribe.)
  5. Revenue is not paid but is shown as paid (for a bribe.)
  6. Revenue paid is shown as not paid. (and misappropriated.)
  7. Small amount of Revenue paid is instead accounted for as the full amount.
  8. Though paid in full only a smaller amount of the Revenue is accounted for.
  9. Revenue paid by one is accounted under the name of another [a bribe giver.]
  10. Revenue paid in one kind [of higher value] is shown of another kind [of lower value.]  
  1. Making payments earlier than they are due [as a favor to the official.]
  2. Delaying payment due on a given date.
  3. Making payment to someone that is not due (due to coercion or as a favor.)
  4. Not paying the due amount, but pocketing it.
  5. Large payment is misrepresented as a small one.
  6. Small payment is misrepresented as a larger one.
  7. Payment due to one person is paid to another person.
  8. Payment made in one kind [of lower value] is shown as another [of higher value.] 
Purchase and Sale of Goods and Commodities
  1. Goods bought in wholesale are shown as bought at retail (higher) prices.
  2. Goods sold on retail are shown as sold on wholesale (lower) prices.
  3. Suppressing a sale by giving away the goods (as gifts or bribes.)
  4. Suppressing a purchase by refusing to deliver the goods.
  5. Even when the goods are not received, a payment is made creating a supposition of a sale.
  6. Goods are delivered, but payments are not collected (in return for a bribe) ** [verify]
  7. A high priced item is sold at a much lower price.
  8. A lower price is paid for a higher priced item.
  9. Prices are lowered (as a bribed favor) to select people.
  10. Prices are artificially raised (to those who refuse to pay the bribe) harassing selected people.
Collection of any Payments and Fraud Associated
  1. Fraud in the period of collection of payment is frequent (in days of a month, or in months of a year.)
  2. Discrepancy is frequent in 
  • personally supervised work
  • Heads of Account or the Accounts Officer.
  • Labor Accounts at the time of disbursing salaries
  • Accounting formalities including Totaling
  • Variation of quality and price of the deliverable goods.
  • Variation of weights and measures to change quantity.
  • Variation of containers of the goods to change quantity and quality simultaneously.
The punishment for all these was usually a heavy Fine imposed on the official and a transfer. If an informant withdrew his or her claim, the punishment was death assuming that the informant made a false claim against a public servant. Unless the Government servant found guilty of corruption was also found guilty of stealing the King's property (treason), no action was usually taken - except for a passable fine imposed. This allowed corruption to go on, though laws existed which the King could exercise if the treasury was lean to prosecute them.
Above, you notice the eerie similarity to modern law. The laws exist, but their enforcement is reserved for times like emergencies or during periods when force majeure is in effect. Daily enforcement is not possible because the law is being circumvented at the level of the general public and not directly by the King (in the case of the ideal Oligarchies mentioned in the Arthashastra.)

In page 284 of his translation, L N Rangarajan mentions that Kautilya intended to use spies (or Intelligence agents in the present day) to find the true cause of incorrect revenue collection before meting out any punishment. We can therefore assume that this was all centralized to a single investigation agency directly under the control of the King or his Council. {2.9.10-12}

Fighting Corruption Today

While activism on part of the people is absolutely necessary, the solution involves us, the people, to stop meting out the bribes. Since that is not possible in a flash, a two pronged (top-down and a bottom-up) approach needs to be outlined and then carefully implemented. To add to complications, we now have India divided into States with a certain level of autonomy conferred to them for their governance and administration. Hence the top-down approach hits too many obstacles. The bottom-up approach can only be done by social activism. Insofar social activism including crowdsourcing has been concentrated to smaller populations, never large populations like India. The real India is not necessarily well connected nor is it literate (42% illiteracy or lack of education among children, if not more.)

Our hurry to create yet another top-down body, the Lokpal and the Lokayukta is merely adding one more 'Spy' agency with modern accountability in terms of its investigation. At the end, if the ground-level official influences the citizen more, controls their ability to procure essential commodities, water, housing and electricity, the Lokpal and the Lokayukta would remain blind to the suffering of the people, just as the CBI, CID, State Police and other Authorities against Corruption remain blind. The people will receive severe backlashes as the Officials and Politicians act like Oligarchies (or parties or gangs or sub-groups) passing information within each other making it difficult to break their curtain. Hence, despite the existence of corruption, inevitable as it is, I am yet to read a practical strategic solution to it. This is not just about India. Any country would have it, its just the documentation that would be missing about how much is happening, where and why.

Standard Bearers in India
While Kejriwal, Hazare, the Bushans and team have really brought a lot of things together, I have not read any innovation in their solution, except a strong "call for action" (which is great), but is rendered of ill-use without a true mechanism that can help people in getting good governance, after all, each of the issues listed in terms of corruption is directly related to the well-being of the people. I am not skeptic, for I know that someone has a solution, but they have been suppressed from throwing the document for all of us to read - understand and act upon. If that is done, then this call by Kejriwal, Hazare, the Bushans and team gets stronger momentum. I put Kejriwal first, because, all said and done, he seems to be the person risking everything in bringing all of this forward. It's just my perspective.