|Friday, 18 March 2011 00:00|
Corruption is the flavour of the season and the scam-hit government appointed a Group of Ministers (GoM) to find ways to tackle the problem some weeks ago. Some of the ideas being worked on include a Lokpal Bill, removing discretionary powers of ministers and chief ministers for allotting land for instance, auctioning of resources, faster permission to prosecute corrupt bureaucrats, and so on. The 9-member GoM, in turn, has appointed a 4-member sub-committee to discuss the Lokpal Bill with civil society activists led by Anna Hazare. Given that little has been done about a suggestion made by the Planning Commission more than a year ago to remove licensing powers from ministers and pass them on to regulators who report directly to Parliament and follow a transparent procedure for licensing based on the ministry’s policy directions, there is some reason to be sceptical though.
Interesting, in this context, is what Chief Economic Advisor Kaushik Basu has just begun work on, a proposal that tries to attack the source of petty corruption, the type that affects the common man. Basu argues in favour of changing the incentive structures for the Bribe Giver (BG) and the Bribe Taker (BT). If both are equally guilty under the law, the simplest version of Prisoners’ Dilemma will tell you, the two will settle for the least-best position as far as society is concerned—neither will admit to their guilt. Change the incentive, let the BG go scot-free and he no longer has the same incentive to keep quiet. While it will take him a few months of research to finalise his new ‘game’, Basu has a caveat—giving BG a free get-out-of-jail pass should apply only to corruption where a bribe is given for services a citizen should have got automatically, harassment-bribes as it were. It is your right to get a driving licence once you pass the test, it is your right to sell food provided your restaurant meets the food safety and hygiene requirements … in such instance of harassment-bribes, Basu advocates letting the BG off. It may work, and it may not, since if the BT feels he’s going to be ratted on anyway, he may not take bribes but may not grant clearances either! Presumably Basu’s research and consultations over the next few weeks will come up with solutions for this as well. Turning state’s approver is another way of altering incentive structures to offer the same results for the larger crimes, but if Sadiq Batcha was indeed going to turn approver and his suicide turns out to be a homicide, that’s not a perfect solution either. The good news is that the powers-that-be are looking for more than piecemeal solutions.