Editorial: January 2011
Ratan Tata recently raised a storm by hinting that he abandoned plans to launch an airline, as he refused to bow down to pressures of paying bribe to authorities to secure the necessary approvals. He said he was asked by a fellow industrialist, "You people are stupid. You know that the minister wants `15 crores. Why don't you just pay?" Tata's reply was, "I just want to go to bed at night knowing that I haven't got the airline by paying a bribe."
Flats meant for defence personnel and Kargil war widows in Adarsh Society in Mumbai were allotted to politicians, bureaucrats and defence top brass. Maharashtra Chief Minister was axed for his alleged links to the Adarsh Society scam. Adarsh is only one of Maharashtra's countless property scandals driven by a well-oiled politician-bureaucrat-builder-muscleman network. An 8000 crore rip-off in allocation of rights and procurement of materials is related to the Commonwealth Games. Suresh Kalmadi, allegedly a symbol of sleaze and corruption, was removed from one of his posts. An IAS officer in the home ministry is detained and being probed for wanting money and sex with foreigners, for pushing security clearances.
It is reported that middlemen made hay in the `18,000 crore Scorpene Submarine deal. Members of Parliament were allegedly offered cash to vote for the government in the trust vote over the nuclear deal; bundles of currency notes were on display in the Parliament during the discussions on this deal. It is reported that a staggering sum of `176,000 crores is the notional loss to the national exchequer after the Telecom ministry undersold 2G spectrum to companies. In Karnataka, Chief Minister Yeddyurappa denotified land for allotment to his immediate family. Efforts to dethrone him have not worked. Senior executives of public sector banks and an LIC executive were arrested in a crackdown on multi-crore kickbacks-for-loan scam. This is an indication of the place money has taken in our social system. Most people find their identity in the amount of wealth they possess. Greed of individuals is the root cause.
The numerous scams that have tumbled out of India's cupboards have shamed us globally. In each of these cases, civil servants formed an integral part of the decision making. Muscle and money power make it impossible for the average citizen to even dream of contesting elections.
The intense attention of the country on this issue has sent a powerful ripple through the political system. This will certainly drive home the point that this country is more unforgiving of corruption than ever before.
The Bible regards bribery as a sin against God, a perversion of justice, and an abuse of power to satisfy greed. People of God must be honest.
The Old Testament prophets levelled strong accusations against the corrupt kings of Israel and Judah for taking bribes. This is in sharp contrast to the character of Joseph, who was trusted by Potiphar with all the responsibilities of the household. This trust remained intact till the captain was forced to choose between Joseph and his wife who lied to him. Joseph ended up in prison. When Joseph interpreted Pharaoh's dreams correctly and was released from prison on the strength of his character, Pharaoh entrusted him with all the wealth of Egypt (Gen.37).
Daniel was set over the satraps by Darius to "give account, so that the king should suffer no loss" (Dan.6:2). The king planned to "set him over the whole kingdom" (v.3). He excelled in his responsibility and no fault could be laid against him in his work. The only ground for complaint against Daniel was his insistence on worshipping God alone. Since Daniel was not a person of compromise, he continued to pray to the living God. Though the king desired to save Daniel, the king had to throw Daniel into the lions' den. Next morning, the king was overjoyed to find Daniel alive. The consistent faith of Daniel persuaded an unbelieving king to believe in God. Daniel was vindicated and his enemies were thrown to the lions.
Samuel, the first Old Testament prophet, appointed his sons in his place, as he grew old. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes to pervert justice (1Sam.8:3). Perversion of justice is one of the worst consequences of bribery, enabling the rich to exploit the poor.
In his farewell address at the coronation of King Saul, Samuel asked, "From whose hand have I taken a bribe to make me shut my eyes?" (1 Sam.12:3). He was blameless, and the crowd declared without hesitation, "You have not taken anything from anyone's hand."
David asks, "Who may dwell in the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place?" He answers, "He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false." He contrasts "men whose right hands are full of bribes" and the man "who does not take a bribe against the innocent" (Psa.15:5). Isaiah commends the one "who keeps his hand from accepting bribes" (Isa. 33:15). Amos laments, "You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts" (Amos 5:12). Micah says, 'The prince asks, also the judge, for a bribe, ...the best of them is like a briar, the most upright like a thorn hedge" (Mic. 7:3-4).
The Apostle Paul refused to bribe the Roman governor Felix, who admitted that Paul had done nothing wrong. But he kept Paul in prison hoping that "Paul would offer him a bribe" (Acts 24:26). Paul refused to pay the bribe, and as a result, he remained in the prison. He would not pay the bribe, even though he could have raised the money from any of his contacts. Instead of being free to visit churches, he wrote letters to them; these letters provide guidance to the churches all over the world even today. Suffering for the sake of the Gospel is not lost in the providence of God.
The most notorious bribe in history was the thirty pieces of silver given by the Jewish priests to Judas Iscariot, who was motivated by greed and personal gain, to betray Jesus Christ. Judas helped himself from the money bag entrusted to him (many people do so even today). When Judas realised with horror the consequences of his betrayal, he threw the money into the temple and committed suicide. Many are persuaded to think that bribery is excusable, since it has become a custom. It is accepted as a simple way to speed up matters and avoid difficulties. It is shameful that this disease has infected even the churches and Christian organisations also. Some leaders have been caught and disciplinary actions taken. But the problem remains. Christians should be in the forefront in the fight against corruption.
A convention against corruption was adopted by UN General Assembly in October 2003. 141 countries have approved it. Transparency International reports regularly on the apparent level of corruption in the different countries. Its 2009 Global Corruption Barometer rated bribery of police as the most common reason for bribery in the world.
Discretionary power leaves scope for enormous whimsicality as well as corruption. Misuse of this power by the ministers and bureaucrats lead them to show favouritism to cronies and to make money. The colossal loot of the country's resources must be recovered and used to provide the much needed food security, education and health for our people. In addition, the time has come to contemplate severe exemplary punishment, including death sentence, to those who indulge in bribery (both giving and taking), and thus rape the public exchequer, to prevent others from doing the same.
Dishonest practices almost always start from the top. As such, the initiative for a thorough clean up of the society, politics and administration must also commence from the top. Whistleblowers are in danger of a real threat to their lives. The media have an important role to play in bringing corruption to light. However, the owners of the media often prevent them from reporting facts accurately and expressing unbiased opinions freely. Some of the journalists are also in the thick of controversy.
Kang, a senior official in China's nuclear industry has been charged with taking nearly $1 million in bribes from foreign companies. He has been sentenced to life imprisonment. A major official of the Beijing airport was executed last year after he was found guilty of bribery and embezzlement totalling nearly $16 million.
Anti-corruption measures led Japan to a relatively low level of bribery and corruption. From its new post-war beginnings, Japan has attempted to set a climate for ethical business. South Korea has a similar history. Countries like Singapore have tough anti-corruption laws and severe penalties against bribery and corruption. Despite having no natural resources, Singapore is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Why does our country with vast natural resources have masses of people living in abject poverty?
Russian President Mededev has recently proposed that bribe takers should be fined 100 times the amount of the bribe. He also criticised intermediaries who played an important role as 'bribe-brokering.'
It is reported that a multi-national company issued an instruction to all staff, "No extra-contractual payments are to be paid at any time by any employee to anyone for any purpose." What an example for all Christians to follow!
In the backdrop of the large number of scams, Congress President Sonia Gandhi said, "graft and greed" are on the rise and endangering the principles on which independent India was founded. She stressed on the need for a "more effective and efficient" government. She said that high rate of economic growth was good, but not an end in itself. Much more important is what kind of society we aspire to be, and the values on which it should be built.
The fight against dishonesty has to be a whole hearted effort by the Church. Christians are the salt of the earth and the prime purpose of salt is to prevent 'corruption.' We, therefore, owe it to our country and to God to get together and strengthen each other's hearts, minds and arms, and take exemplary actions against the culprits. Pray for Josephs, Esthers, Daniels, Deborahs and Pauls in this generation.