The Strange Math of Corruption


If Rs. 50 crore  ( 500 million)  is allocated for spending on an irrigation project and Rs. 10 crore is snatched up by corruption at various levels, then what is the amount that remains for actual development work?

The most obvious answer would be Rs. 40 crore, but more often than not this is likely to be wrong. The reason is that the powerful persons including key decision makers involved are likely to be so involved in siphoning off the corruption money that the quality of the construction work gets much less importance. As long as the official is getting his money, he may be much less caring for the quality of the work. Regardless of  the proper location of the work, both the contractor and the officials may be interested in pushing it towards a place of less visibility. They are likely to avoid all efforts at improving transparency and participation of people, and thereby the most important way of ensuring good quality and cost effectiveness is avoided. The official may be in a hurry to avoid a completion certificate to the contractor so that both can quickly collect their booty, and for this reason important aspects of proper work completion may be missed. Hence due to all these factors, the actual public loss is much greater than the commission or corruption money taken by the official.

Now let us take another example of a much bigger project that costs Rs. 20000 crore or Rs. 200 billlion. Assuming that corruption of around 20 per cent is also involved here, Rs. 4000 crore will go directly this but will Rs. 16000 crore will be spent for the benefit of people? Very unlikely, as all that was stated earlier is valid here also . Additionally, as in such a case the amounts involved are much bigger and are shared at much higher levels a situation is created by powerful persons that this project must go on, come what may. If it is revealed in studies, or on the basis of the experience of some very well-informed persons, that this project may turn out to be harmful, then this possibility is simply  brushed aside and such voices are silenced in various ways. In this way undesirable and unsafe projects also come up. So in such a case the strange math of corruption may say that Rs. 200 billion minus Rs. 40 billion is not Rs. 160 billion at all; in fact it may even turn out to be a negative figure as the project turns out to be harmfiul to people. Hence the strange math of corruption may say, for example, that Rs. 160 billion minus Rs. 40 billion ( in the case of such a project) equals minus Rs 100 billion!

Now consider another situation in which most farmers already have access to some irrigation and all that is needed is to allocate the available budget is to divide this equally among all farmers so that they cam take up some repair work as well as water  conservation work on their farmland. But this option has least room for corruption so the official ignores this best option and anyway decides to use the entire budget for a new project not really needed . Again the real benefit may be extreme low or a minus figure.

Or take an example where an official has enough money for improving paths of 100 villages by equally dividing budget among them. But the corruption possibility is either very low , or too many people are involved which may also lead to exposure. So he devotes this entire money to the widening of a big city road which is not really needed. Widening leads to  cutting many big trees which creates opportunities of more earnings for him. Again there may be minus benefit and the village paths remain in bad shape.

Let us take a situation where several schools have satisfactory buildings but there is need for devoting more attention at several levels for improving education. However there is no money to be made in this. So an official somehow finds a justification to build a new hall in all schools which actually reduced the playing space for children, while the real educational work also suffers.

Due to high impact of corruption a situation can arise where those aspects of development which involve payment of commission are prioritized and speeded up, while those very important aspects which have no room for this get neglected.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist

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