Editorial: September 2009
Our infamous babus have landed at the bottom of the heap in a business survey that rates bureaucratic efficiency in twelve key Asian economies. The recent survey shows that "bureaucracy in India is not only the most inefficient in Asia, but also the most corrupt and even wicked." Indians have the largest amount of black money stacked in Swiss banks. This would not have been possible without an evil nexus of the bureaucracy with Bollywood, the builder lobby, agents of international finance, arms dealers, politicians and the police. CBI has recently registered cases against government officials for causing loss of revenue to the exchequer, allegedly by awarding contract worth Rs.221 crore to a private firm.
The business survey found India's babus to be a power centre in their own right, extremely resistant to change. Recently, the babus administering the Right to Information (RTI) Act were found to have put out misleading information on an official website, stating that file notings were not part of the information that could be disclosed under the Act. The officials have tried to subvert the implementation of the RTI Act in as many ways as possible, because it might mean greater transparency and accountability for them. These people have different answers to the same question on different days. They will have a new form which you will need to fill up in triplicate.
The powers of clearing files from the Corporator to the Chief Minister are contracted out. People have to pay bribes for everything from school admissions to getting pension and even a death certificate. Formerly, politicians were agents of capitalists and traders. Now, politicians themselves have become investors. After obtaining the sanction of the Governor, CBI has recently filed charge-sheet against a former minister in the multi-crore rupee SNC-Lavalin scandal.
The civil service was set up in colonial times, when its function was to assert control over the vast sub-continent. Its outlook has not changed much. Public servants have turned out to be masters of all they survey, relegating the rest of us to the role of their supplicants.
Cutting bureaucratic flab, while bringing in a culture of accountability, performance, and transparency, should be brought on the agenda. This is essential for good governance. The civil servants should learn to be civil and provide service. Members of the public should not only insist not to give bribes, but also report the matter to the authorities.
The Supreme Court ordered an unambiguous ban on capitation fees, six years ago. But the system is still thriving; seats in medical colleges are still being sold or even hawked to the highest bidder. This is making a mockery of merit in education and eroding trust in specialist studies. The colleges are directly involved in this ugly money-making racket fleecing the students. Not only the institutions, but also the students and their parents are responsible for this mess. It appears, the regulator is also complicit in this racket. According to the Delhi High Court, the regulator, the Medical Council of India, is "a den of corruption."
It is possible to send out a firm signal against capitation fees by derecognising the offending colleges, thus making their degrees worthless. That would act as a deterrent, not just for the colleges, but also for the students who are willing to pay to get admitted. The very thought of these colleges disgorging armies of mediocre doctors on an unsuspecting public is frightening! After interrogating all the suspects and witnesses and examining their mobile phone records, CBI said that there was "enough evidence" to establish the bribery case against a Judge of a High Court.
The near collision of two aircrafts in one of our airports could have resulted in a major disaster in aviation history. Mediocrity in the administration of the airlines is the cause for incidences of near-collision. Accountability of the operating staff has to be ensured.
Huge amounts are now being spent on elections by people whose sole aim is to enrich themselves. The declared assets of our MPs are more than Rs.3075 crore, when 28 crore citizens of our country are below the poverty line. A former governor of the Reserve Bank of India has observed, politics is the most lucrative business and democracy is no more "of the people, by the people, for the people," but "by few, for few."
It is a matter of great satisfaction that, in this situation, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has come clean and set an example for his ministerial team and the bureaucracy to follow. Defence Minister Antony is referred to, in the corridors of power, as St. Antony, symbolic of his clean image. He has declared a war on corruption, warning that defence deals would be "ruthlessly cancelled" if malpractices were detected in acquisitions.
We surely are concerned about this situation where corruption is rampant. We are sorry for this condition. But, this should not surprise us. This was the way it was right from the very beginning. "God looked upon the earth and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth" (Gen.6:12). "God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes" (Eccl.7:29). The Psalmist says, "God looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. Every one of them has turned aside: they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one" (Psa.53:23).
But, we are called to be different. Jesus told the disciples, "Yet it shall not be so among you" (Matt.20:26). "We are not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct, received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Pet.1:18,19). We are "born again, not of corruptible seed, but incorruptible, through the Word of God which lives and abides for ever" (1Pet.1:23). We have been given exceedingly great and precious promises so that we may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust (1 Pet.1:4).
However, are we different today from the rest of the world? It is regrettable that corruption is not limited to the secular world. Reports of corruption and mismanagement within churches and Christian organisations have appeared repeatedly, even in secular newspapers. The leaders buy some members for supporting their misdeeds. The religious professionals use their positions to gain power and prestige for themselves, not to serve the people. Jesus did not choose those who were wise, mighty or noble, by human standards (1 Cor.1:26). He sought those who were willing to follow Him and be trained for loving service.
It is an open secret that crores are being spent by candidates in the elections for positions of power in the churches. Is this for serving the churches, or for making more money for themselves? In this context, the practice of the Catholic Church is worthy of emulation by all denominations. "When a person's name is suggested or recommended to the post of Bishop, if that person or some one else will make any effort to influence the people who are involved in the decision making or in electoral roll, that person will be considered as unfit and shall be rejected."
Numerous reports regarding leaders involving themselves unashamedly in embezzlement of funds and immorality are doing the rounds. Secular courts have severely criticised the heads of some Christian organisations for ignoring the ideals they preach. The judges have quoted from the Bible in their judgments to teach the leaders a lesson. Disciplinary actions have also been taken by some churches on their ecclesiastical heads. Even these have not prevented some of the leaders from continuing their shameful acts. Many elected to leadership have become arrogant beyond measure. The leaders and their henchmen are not just looked up to, but are venerated. The subordinates are not able to speak the whole truth to the seniors. Members have been reduced to mere spectators, and their responsibility restricted to 'pray and pay.' "There are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers,... who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain" (Tit.1:10, 11). "They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient and disqualified for every good work" (Tit.1:16).
New doctrines are also invented to promote abuses and materialism. For example, the health-and-wealth gospel excuses corruption. If a person lives luxuriously, owns a big car, he is simply living proof of the wealth that God has given him; someone who remains poor is just lacking adequate faith!
Adolf Harnack, a church historian, has recorded as follows: "The living faith seems to be transformed into a creed to be believed; devotion of Christ into Christology; the ardent hope for the coming of the Kingdom into a doctrine of immortality and deification; prophecy into technical exegesis and theological learning; the ministries of the spirit into clergy; the brothers (and sisters) into lay (people) in a state of tutelage; miracles and miraculous cures disappear altogether or are priestly devices; fervent prayers become solemn hymns and litanies; the spirit becomes law and compulsion."
According to a newspaper report, parishioners of a church in Mumbai want their priest transferred. They are planning to boycott religious services and attend other churches in the neighbourhood. They have circulated letters among fellow members asking them to stop all church services, if the priest, whom they accuse of financial misdeeds, is not transferred. Besides misappropriating church funds, the priest is also accused of creating a divide among the members.
What is essential now is courage among the people of God to stand together against the misdeeds of the strayed leaders and their henchmen. It is necessary for Christians to set the standard for others to emulate. Christian leadership should be free of corruption and transactions should be transparent. They should function in subordination to the Master and be accountable to the people. It seems the only practical option is that leadership positions should be for limited periods only and kept in perpetual renewal. It is never too late to set things right, provided there is commitment.