The Narrative of Corruption

Good governance, accountability, transparency, efficiency
Good governance, accountability, transparency, efficiency
Good governance, accountability, transparency, efficiency

Good governance, accountability, transparency, efficiency – the mantra of new urban management as you all know. Standing from the pulpits of the city with who I share an ambiguous relationship, estrange yet intimate, I now deliver one more narrative of corruption.

Friends, Romans and countrymen, a few months ago I started meeting up with some technicians, some politicians, some actors in local politics, some financiers, some lumpen proletariat and some of the lumpen bourgeoise. Conversations and teas revealed that corruption is more ambiguous than the transparency of good governance and the accountability of transparency – that corruption is an important pawn in the new chess of urban management and that corruption has facets, some evident, some hidden and some yet to be revealed. Who plays the corruption card, directs the game (and the direction).

Sometime ago, we lived with corruption in municipal governance. ‘Arre, you need to pay to get a water connection,’ ‘arre, they don’t issue birth/death certificates till you don’t grease their palms’, ‘arre they make you wait if you don’t pay’. And cities continued just as the inhabitants did. But today something has changed. Infrastructure is collapsing, slums are proliferating and suddenly we have realized that we are living in the Times of Corrupt Indian Cities. What realization (and what transcendence as we ascend peaks towards becoming global cities)!

In the Times of Corrupt Indian Cities, municipal services are inefficient, delivery is slow, but the city continues to grow (despite!). We need to move fast because local politicians are corrupt and always filling their coffers, we may miss the bus because financial resources are inadequate and public-private partnerships are the order of the day.

Friends, Romans and countrymen, we are living in the times of urban renewal and transparently accountable good governance where corruption is opaquely invisible. There was a time when the local municipal councilor made money on repair and maintenance contracts and they still do. But today the chunks of moneys have moved to the higher echelons of governments. When a proposal for a mall is submitted, the moneys reach to the state and central government politicians since the projects have grown bigger in size and the stakes are higher (stakeholders hai nah!). As the public-private partnerships take over, contracts start to get signed in the offices of the state and central government urban development departments, amidst the babus and the bosses of the babus (opaque corruption). And then, who said corruption is all about moneys. It is about khushi which you give to the babu in the form of phoren trip. It is the price paid for efficiency of contract approval.

Then there are some who sincerely believe that transparency is critical for good governance, but who needs to know how decisions are made in the cabinet and what compromising is done to arrive at those decisions. Those need to be kept outside the ambit of any of the rights to information. And then we have the right to information, that powerful tool which will transform the face of corruption from this country. So let us bring out all the skeletons from the closets of those municipal councilors who have been siphoning public funds by building public toilets in slums, smoothening roads, and not putting the money where the horse’s mouth is and filling their potbellies and coffers. Those rascals! And as budget analyses are done, their misdeeds are revealed. And who smiles upon us? The gods of the state and central level politicians who would love to tighten the noose on these erratic scoundrels. Such a mess this local politics! (Apparently, the Chinese central government is also peeved with the erratic local politics and wants transparency weapons to crack the whip!)

Friends, Romans and countrymen, someone wise once said that decentralized corruption is not as lucrative as the one which centralizes decision-making. The rest is for you to figure out.

Ah, our dying cities! Long live good governance, accountability, transparency, efficiency (and opaque be corruption) …

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