For years now the country has been struggling to reduce if not eradicate corruption. Laws like the Prevention of Corruption Act 2002 have been passed. And yet numerous debates and talk shows later, we still come across alleged corrupt practices some involving hundreds of millions of rupees. These alleged practices, while potentially enriching a few individuals, also result in a drain of public funds. Goods and services – often of poorer quality – are purchased using tax-payers money at higher prices than those charged by competing suppliers. The beneficiaries are often those in power and/or their cronies.
These alleged practices have been occurring for decades irrespective of which political party is in power. Readers will recall how the current regime exposed the allegedly excessively high amounts paid to a company for the transportation of petroleum products and subsequently cancelled the contract. Now it is the turn of some of those directly/indirectly connected with this alleged petroleum saga to make their allegations heard in the case of the St Louis saga or the purchase of medical equipment during the lockdown. In a few years, we may again see a similar reversal of roles!
The question that we need to ask ourselves is why these corrupt practices occur and why in most cases the beneficiaries get away scot-free. We need to make a clear distinction between petty corruption and systemic corruption. Petty corruption – e.g., a policeman taking a bribe – involves a simple transaction where the person paying the bribe and the one benefiting from it are known and easy to deal with. Systemic corruption, on the other hand, involves a much more complex transaction where those paying or receiving the proceeds of corruption are not directly involved. This is best illustrated by the diagram below that explains one possible scenario, published in an earlier article (in Le Mauricien of 16 May 2013 – https://patil-hunma.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-hidden-costs-of-corruption.html#more ).
It should be noted that part of the above web of transactions is not illegal under current legislation. For example, it is currently not illegal in Mauritius for a company to donate money to a political party or to a politician. Electoral expenses by candidates and parties are not illegal even though the reported figures are often significantly lower than the amount actually spent. Moreover, the ones who are ultimately paying higher prices for products and services (the tax-payers) are not party to the transaction.
Finally, we are dealing with an intricate system involving a number of direct / indirect beneficiaries: the company winning the contract for the supply of goods or services / obtaining state assets at low prices often in partnership with a shell company, the political party or the politician being financed and winning elections. To further complicate matters, the transaction also involves multiple intermediaries. The company winning a juicy contract may employ a ‘consultant’ who will ensure that tender specifications are drafted in its favour. This consultant may ‘share’ his hefty fee with the concerned official and / or politician. Another scenario would involve a company which has been granted state assets (e.g., land) at a nominal price, paying a generous ‘bonus’ to one of its senior employees (perfectly legal) and this bonus may be ‘shared’ with a politician or a party as a ‘donation’ (again perfectly legal).
It also turns out that those who win the elections and sometimes win power would also be the ones who are entrusted with the task of eradicating corruption. This is like expecting your cat to watch over your milk. The conflict of interest is obvious. This is another reason why systemic corruption is so difficult to deal with. The link between corruption and political party financing was dealt with in detail in another article published in Le Mauricien on 3 November 2011 – https://patil-hunma.blogspot.com/2011/11/political-party-financing-and.html) .
Those who have been spending money obtained from obscure sources to finance their political campaigns and subsequently under-declared the amount spent to the Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC) are probably not best placed to deal with this situation. They lack credibility. If you are part of the problem, you cannot be part of the solution. This also applies to the public at large – especially those who expect, or have benefited from, ‘favours’ from politicians.
In view of the complexity involved, it is clear that systemic corruption cannot be dealt with simply by passing or applying a given law. It is an adaptive challenge (to borrow a term coined by Ronald Heifetz) that cannot be resolved using a quick fix. It would require a comprehensive approach involving among other things a change of mindset in the population as well as passing / amending relevant laws (a) to give extensive powers to the ESC to deal with campaign spending and reporting, (b) to require political parties to be registered as companies with a duty to submit audited accounts with transparent reporting of expenses and sources of funds, (c) to track unexplained wealth and sanction those concerned, (d) to grant citizens the Right to Information to enforce transparency. This list is far from exhaustive. We would need an iterative approach and learn from our mistakes as we proceed.