We can be cleaner than we are

Bhutan’s position in the global corruption ranking has remained unchanged at 27, which means for the last three years, Bhutan’s scores in the annual index has not fallen. Although we could have done better, this is good news. Hitting 27th rank out of 176 cleanest countries is no small feat. In the SAARC region, Bhutan is the cleanest country, followed by India (79), Sri Lanka (95), the Maldives (95), Pakistan (116) Nepal (131), Bangladesh (145) and Afghanistan (169).

The important question, however, is how did get where we are? According to the report, higher-ranked countries tend to have higher degree of press freedom, access to information about public expenditure, stronger standards of integrity of public officials and independent judicial systems, among others. We can certainly do better. Why not?

While we commend ourselves, there is the need to look at corruption from a broader perspective. The report also tells us that the higher-ranked countries are not immune to closed-door deals, conflicts of interest, illicit financing, and patchy law enforcement that can distort public policy and aggravate corruption. That is what Bhutan Transparency Initiative’s National Corruption Barometer Survey exactly found recently. Favouritism and nepotism in recruitment, promotion and transfer, misuse of public funds and facilities, and the deliberate delaying of decisions with twisted motives are the most prevalent forms of corruption in the country today.

While we know these ills exist, it is by much more important that we know what foments their growth. Weak leadership, lack of information and transparency and poor accountability mechanisms play significant role in increasing corruption. We also know from the reports that corruption is concentrated at the top decision-making level, so much so that people think it is all right to be corrupt. The people, especially the poor and powerless, are afraid of combating corruption.

In 2014, during National Day celebration in Trashigang, His Majesty The King said: “The highest probable risk to development that I foresee is corruption. Our national development efforts will be hindered by unchecked corruption. The formulation of plans and programs may be done well, aimed at the wellbeing of the people. Impressive amount of budget may be disbursed in line with these plans. But as the activities become too numerous, oversight and monitoring may fall short, allowing some people to be corrupt…

“But there is an even greater threat – ignoring corruption. When the corrupt are not held to account, those who observe due diligence, work hard and professionally are most likely to be discouraged. We mustn’t allow the latter to lose morale by rewarding everyone indiscriminately, irrespective of his or her performance.”

Corruption is a disease that will eat into the society and destroy the goodness of it all. If the initiative does not come from the top, we will only be making space for corruption to grow. We must cut root and branch of it while we can. The sooner we do this, the better.

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