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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Saturday, November 10, 2012
OP-ED

Straight Line

The predicament of the corrupt

On October 30, a well-circulated Bengali daily has quite interestingly highlighted the predicament of a public servant, the former Chief Conservator of forest who is now in prison since May 2008, reportedly on charges of possessing unaccounted cash, keeping unusual quantity of jewelleries and retaining two passports.

The cash was seized from unlikely places in his residence and the jewellery from the bank locker.

The interesting fact of the dark scenario is the reported loneliness and feelings of dejection of the former public servant, who has had no visitors, and sadly while other prison inmates at times can enjoy food sent by relatives, he has access to prison-cooked food only.

The poor conservator has reportedly lamented that those for whom he has done (!) so much do not even remember him.

One may start with the assumption that corruption in our society is pervasive and uncontrollable. This article does not wish to analyse the phenomenon of corruption or its determinants or impact. The actors in the transaction and the mode of operation are too well known.

Curiously, what we often lose sight of are the problems or inconveniences faced by corrupt public servants at different stages of their active lives and may be ultimately the price they have to pay; as very poignantly evidenced in the lamentation of our poor conservator.

The informed victims and beneficiaries of corrupt deals by public servant would tell you that the transaction is often operated through agents like in-laws, the wife, personal assistant, or reliable friends. However, in many cases these agents played havoc with the corrupt.

They siphoned off the cream themselves, and paid a paltry sum to the wielders of power. For instance, there was allegedly a case where a member of the Board of Revenue authorised and trusted his wife to fix the rate and collect the money on his behalf, but at the end of the day he found that almost all the money had gone to the in laws. What could the poor fellow do? And, unfortunately, he was soon transferred to an unattractive post.

Similarly, in another case, a high official of the fisheries department managed a loan of crores in the name of his brother-in-law who later refused to reimburse the money. The poor official had to lose his job. Whether he was able to recover the money from his in-laws is not known. Yet, in another case, a Director of a sensitive ministry kept on sending money to his father back home. When he wanted to reclaim the money at the end of his tenure, his father refused point blank.

Reliable sources reflect that some of the corrupt invested money in financial companies, housing societies and lately in stock exchanges. Very few people know that in all these ventures billions were lost. We know of officers belonging to development departments, senior professionals and even educationist who invested heavily in these phoney companies and lost their savings.

The pity is that no one sympathises with them. Newspapers write editorials about small investors, print their tales of woe but not a single word has appeared about the losses caused to the corrupt.

For the corrupt petrol pumps, fishing trawlers, transport, import and export business have also been attractive propositions for investment. But apart from some public functionaries who succeed in making money from the transport business, because of supportive network, others have generally lost their hard-earned money in these ventures.

Partnerships in hotels, medium-size industry, and construction companies have also not been successful because the active partners usually take away most of the profit.

Dwelling on another dimension, one may find that jobs which are very lucrative from the point of view of the corrupt are always in great demand. There are always people to outbid the incumbents. So, the corrupt have to always be on alert and master the art of surviving different regimes, with different people, all of whom have different demands and priorities.

Is it easy? How can one have mental peace working in such a changeable environment?

The phenomenon of sudden transfers creates another problem. On a lucrative post, an officer and his family get used to a certain living standard. This standard is suddenly lowered when made an OSD, awaiting posting orders for months together or get a non-attractive position. No one talks of this lean period and the horrors it brings with it.

The known corrupt have to face the twin menace of blackmailing and physical threats. In a fast track world everyone knows about everyone else. Nowadays, dacoits and cheats are so well-informed that they have all the details of fixed, as well as liquid, assets of the rich; especially the corrupt.

Sometimes, so-called political activists, and even students groups, start blackmailing and intimidating the corrupt. If their demands are not met, they stoop so low as to give both verbal and physical threats; at times also acting upon it.

Quite often the corrupt rich tend to ignore their children. True, they engage maids and expensive tutors for them, send them to up-scaled private schools, and provide them all the luxuries money can buy, but they cannot spare the time for parental care and attention.

Such children are alienated from their parents, and in many cases this has had an adverse psychological impact on them.

The corrupt are always under pressure from different quarters-bosses, subordinates, politicians, rival groups, even friends and relatives. Whom to please, whom to displease and, whom to avoid, whom to meet, all become questions on which their continued survival depend heavily.

The corrupt have to keep a constant tab on power politics. Who is in, who is out?

There are hazards relating to health which the corrupt have to face. They have to work very hard, both in and outside office, to make and manage money. Each hour, each day, and each week counts.

They are seldom late, work overtime, hardly take any leave, accept more and more work and never grumble. Some of them engage helpers at their own costs to dispose of additional work. An interesting situation arises when they fall ill. Their heart is in their work. Some businesses are incomplete. Some payments have not yet been received.

If they handover charge to somebody else what will happen to these deals?

The main regret of the corrupt is that they could not get more money. With hindsight, they keep on calculating the loss they suffered because they left certain areas untapped or didn't charge the optimum. They are often not able to display their possessions in full.

The cynics say that despite the hazards, harassments and insults many would join the ranks of the corrupt given the lack of accountability and general acceptance of corruption as a way of life.

The writer is a columnist for The Daily Star.

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