What ails us?

by Shyam Prasad


I love my country and I am proud to be an Indian. As a nation, we have made a lot of progress over the last few years but at the same time we are aware that there are issues that we are still grappling with. These issues slow down our advance towards further development.

What are our major problems? The following is my attempt to analyze them:

1)    Our politicians. They let us down time and again. There are a few honourable exceptions but in general, it is our politicians who are the primary reason for India being an under-achiever. Politics, evidently, does not attract the best of people. The typical politician is not a well-read person, indulges in religion/caste-based vote-bank machinations and has ethics that is self-serving. It is shameful and embarrassing that so many of our politicians face criminal charges and we have not been able to put an end to this disgraceful situation.

2)    Corruption is rife in India. Sad, but very much true. Bribery, scams and other financial scandals involving huge sums of money give us a terrible image among the league of nations. The scams occur frequently and getting to the bottom of it and punishing the wrong-doers could take decades, if we are lucky. Most of the time, the perpetrators go scot-free.

3)    The root-cause of the multitude of our problems is the low salaries that we pay government and public sector officials including ministers, senior bureaucrats and other government-appointees. Meagre remuneration coupled with the power to take/influence decisions on matters that have significant financial impact aided by inefficient, ineffective and delayed processes to check compliance with established laws, rules and regulations tempt and snare individuals into the ‘Corruption Trap’. Some of the thoughts that would go through the minds of these officials, I guess, would be “When everyone else is making a fast buck with little risk of getting caught why should I be a conscientious fool and forego a limited opportunity?” “When the entire system is rotten what can one honest individual do?…It would be stupid and futile to swim against the tide”

4)    We have far too many laws, processes and procedures. And they are unnecessarily too convoluted and complicated. Form gets more importance than substance and inconsequential means rank higher than the end. Bureaucrats (including the lower-level government officials) revel in this situation. Since there is either no or very little accountability for the results, no one gets penalized. The general public and the nation end up as losers but then who cares about them…

5)    There is an enormous extent of black money that is part of the Indian economy which escapes scrutiny and measurement. Black money results in, among other things, reduced revenue for the government, inequitable sharing of tax burden and promotion of additional corruption. If the government has the will, (A) if it introduces well thought-out measures aimed to reduce dealing in cash for medium and big-ticket transactions, (B) if the use of Aadhar identity number is made compulsory for all residents without potential for Aadhar duplication and abuse, (C) if there is a tracking of all transactions − by Adhaar number − from different sources in a specific financial year and routinely checked/matched on an automated basis with the tax returns filed and exceptions noted (D) if the tax administration division can enhance its enforcement activity, act sternly against defaulters and deter non-compliance, the ogre of black money can become a more manageable beast.

6)    One of the strengths of India as a nation and a democracy has been its judiciary. We can be justifiably proud of its quality, independence and accomplishments. But we have a problem that needs immediate attention and resolution. Our courts are overburdened by the volume of litigation that is awaiting justice and settlement. Cases can, and do, go on for years, decades, sometimes, a lifetime of the litigants and may still not see closure. This grim situation can have far-reaching consequences that are not good to the country. Justice delayed is justice denied in most circumstances.

7)    A major drawback in the current scheme of things is our woefully inadequate process of enforcing existing laws, requirements and procedures. I have touched upon this issue in a couple of points discussed above but it is critical enough to be emphasized as a separate concern …and as an auditor, I feel very strongly about it. Proper governance requires appropriate checks and balances. It is imperative that there is an audit/ independent internal review of important activities/transactions performed by government or public sector officials. The compliance review should be conducted by experienced personnel and on a timely basis. Exceptions and other significant instances of non-compliance should be dealt with by taking swift and deterrent disciplinary action.

Image courtesy of Michelle Meiklejohn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net