Tale of (Not Just) Two Corrupt Nations
the Greek economy unravels like a Greek tragedy, Canada watches
nervously from the sidelines. What would have been considered another
country's routine fiscal problem in the past, unfortunately, has become
every other country's problem today. We live in an age where barriers of
all aspects, especially economic ones, have been falling at a brisk
With the fall of socialist states in the past twenty years,
implementation of trade liberalizations and unfettered exchange of
goods, capitalism has virtually ensnared the world in an economic
Gordian knot. Markets have never been as sensitive or interdependent at
any moment in history as today.
An announcement in China, a report from Iran or an economic statement in
England can send the markets tumbling all over the world well before
North Americans wake up to turn on their coffee machines. With such
uncertainty and fickleness ready to undermine its economy Canada can
only stay awake wringing its hands as it looks for some form of
Economic forces notwithstanding, Canada needs to look at another
underlying aspect of this global economic crisis and assess whether the
same aspect can equally undermine its economy – loose, irresponsible
spending without any government oversight.
If the Auditor-General's report has any weight the Conservative
Government would do well to pay heed. The free spending on the G20
summit is one recent instance that can be compared to the swashbuckling
spending spree that has brought Greece to its current plight and that
plagues most other countries, India being one of them.
However, despite the notoriety in similarities, Greece and India present
a starkly contrasting state of debt that Canada needs to pay keen
attention to – whereas one looks at the outside world to bail it out,
the other seems to thrive and grow in spite of it. And the reasons are
far more intriguing than surprising.
In discussing the plight of Greece's economy, one word, however apt,
seems lost in the discussion, but, yet, never fails to surface whenever
the economy of third world countries like India and its neighbours are
The word corruption is so joined at the hip with India's economic
progress – it is somewhat of a sad testimony – that despite an
impressive growth rate of 7 to 10 percent for the past 10 years, despite
attracting billions of dollars of investments and raising millions out
of poverty, the world by and large refuses to remove that word or
associate it with India's economic progress.
On the other hand, when a country like Greece teeters on economic
collapse due to fiscal irresponsibility, its leaders struggling to
formulate an economic plan, the western world reluctantly drags its feet
on calling the problem what it is: systemic corruption.
2008 was the year when the financial books of the world were made open
to the public. With the spectacular market collapse countries that had
no serious financial reforms, countries that overspent, over-borrowed,
and without a fiscal plan found themselves looking at a disaster
unfolding in slow motion. Greece found itself with $ 413 billion in
debt, an amount bigger than the country's economy. The detail of this
massive deficit was nothing less than stunning.
As per a report in the New York Times, only a few thousands declared an
income over $132,000 in a population of 11 million people. Professionals
such as doctors routinely understated their income with some reporting
$40,000 a year while others going down to as much as $13, 300, a figure
that exempted them from paying taxes at all. Yet they lived in the most
expensive neighbourhoods, driving the best of cars.
In other affluent neighbourhoods residents refused to divulge their true
wealth by not declaring items such as swimming pools. In a tax
declaration only 324 swimming pools were declared for one particular
suburb. When investigators took an aerial photograph they found 16,974
pools for the same suburb. The roots of corruption, it seems, run deep
in Greece's underground economy that it accounts for 20 to 30 per cent
of its GDP. With such flagrant tax evasion it is no surprise that
someday the circle would come full and reveal that the Emperor, truly,
had no clothes.
India's corruption problem is a story less cathartic but no less
pathetic. Most will agree that the turn to Socialism after Independence
and virtually a single-party rule pushed the levers of power into the
hands of a few over many.
The ruling Congress Party that is in power today has virtually ruled
India for almost fifty years since Independence, on its own for most of
the first few decades and with the help of coalitions of regional
parties for the past two.
It can therefore safely be assumed that the culture of corruption known
as License Raj seeped in and took roots mostly under Congress rule. Due
to lack of reporting it is unclear how much of India's GDP is lost to
corruption but to give a fair idea the past year can be used as a
measure of the amount of money that we are talking about.
The Commonwealth Games held in 2010 saw crumbling infrastructure. Yet $6
billion were spent on it. The corruption was so blatant that the courts
ordered a full review of the accounting process and in turn pushed out
the minister involved in the Games.
On the telecom front the Government swung into action after finding out
that $40 billion was lost due to favouritism by the telecom minister in
awarding licenses. In one of the most expensive cities of the world,
Mumbai, apartments built for widows of the Kargil War, priced at $1.8
million each were sold to politicians and bureaucrats for a paltry
A sweeping glance unveils that just in one year over $50 billion was
lost by way of corruption. Not to mention other ways at the State level
where Chief Ministers routinely accept kickbacks with impunity and at
the every-day-level where the story is played out on the streets by the
local cops, railway employees, contractors. . . and the list goes on.
India's record of corruption is undeniable; however, the last twenty
years of economic progress has underlined the fact that in spite of the
monkey of corruption on its back India has not sunk to the depths of
Greece. Having skilfully liberalized its economy, opened its doors to
foreign investments and sealing its position as an "emerging
country" by providing a better than average growth rate the world
at the least can acknowledge that India got something right and give due
credit where it is due. Why should there be one set of measure for
India's corruption and another for Greece? Greece has largely been
dependent only on tourism to feed its economy whereas India's private
sector has ranged from the IT Industry, to steel to manufacturing. If
anything at all there at least needs to be some form of acknowledgement
to the Indian spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation.
RIGHT OR WRONG
No nation is bereft of problems, whether social or economic. As a human
race we seek to progress in all aspects of life. But, based on our
identities the pace of progress varies according to what we see as right
or wrong, doable or undo-able.
Economically, the West has had an edge over the East due to its colonial
past. But, today, in an age where the playing field has by and large
been levelled, where information is accessible pretty much at the same
time anywhere in the world due to the Internet it is time that
perceptions of others change as well.
Third world countries can be chided for not doing enough for the poor or
for not meeting standards set by the West but the West in turn shouldn't
shy away from looking into the mirror and weighing its own flaws.
The global crisis that pulled the curtain on Greece was not a third
world creation. The exotic Investments that were pedalled by the United
States and that wiped away economies were not the doing of corrupt
India. It was birthed, nurtured and let loose in the West by the West
before engulfing the rest of the world. Ironically, India was amongst
the few countries that weathered the global crisis but the accolades
have been spare in coming by.
India or Greece, corruption is something that knows no borders. As long
as a people opt to take the easy way out rather than shoulder the pain
with the rest there can be no universal prosperity, economic or social.
Living in a global village, it is rather childish when we cannot see the
flaws for what they are but instead favour some over the others.
The European Union can rush to rescue Greece and they might have their
vested reasons to do so, but, as long as they do not acknowledge the
deeper roots of human failing all efforts will be in vain.
India for all its "emerging country" status cannot ignore the
fact that unless it makes a determined effort to pull the millions from
under the poverty line it will be practically impossible to eliminate
corruption in all its ugly forms. Therefore, corruption, for whatever it
is, wherever it is, should be called out without discrimination or
partiality as it is one thing that knows no borders and does not
differentiate between people. It's a manifestation of human failings.
Bableshwar is a Technical Writer/ Web Content Writer based in
Toronto, Ont. Canada. This article is an updated version of the one that
first appeared on www.oyetimes.com
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