Integrity: A Way of Life

The famous economist Warren Buffet says “In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence and energy; and if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.” This goes a long way in hiring the suitable candidate and ensuring that the principles of honesty & integrity are adopted in letter and spirit. Apart from business and recruitment, integrity is the building block of a stronger and morally purified character of an individual that determines the behavior displayed by him in various capacities. Integrity is vital for economy, government, business, public service and, above all, national security. India and the world have been facing the challenge of lack of integrity since ages. Although, the world has been doing grave efforts to strengthen the crippled state of integrity, yet there is a long way to go.

Literature and language define integrity as the practice of being honest and showing an unshakable association with moral and ethical principles. Everybody understands the importance & meaning of integrity, but, upon analyzing the reality, the status of corruption and disunity leave one in dismay and astonishment.

Today, India ranks 78th on the index of the least corrupt countries. This means that half of the world is less corrupt than India! Professor Bibek Debroy and Laveesh Bhandari claim in their book “Corruption in India” that public officials in India may be cornering as much as US$13 billion, or 1.26 per cent of the GDP, through corruption in various forms. A report on bribery in India published by Trace International in January 2009 states that 91% of the bribes were demanded by govt. officials and 77% of the bribes demanded were for avoiding harm rather than to gain any advantage. Of these 51% were for timely delivery of services to which the individual was already entitled. Public procurement is another sector prone to corruption. According to an estimate by the World Bank, on an average, 15% of the contract value must be fed to get a public contract.

India is fairly placed among the biggest economies of the world. The country stands among the first 30 countries in terms of business sophistication, technological innovation & financial robustness. But, it lags behind many countries on the Transparency International’s Bribe Payer Index where we are ranked 19th out of 22 members. It means that India is being perceived as a country likely to demand bribe while carrying out business. Lack of integrity and moral values leave a country shattered; it distorts the markets; deteriorates quality; promotes inefficiency and under-utilization of resources. The national security of a country is at risk due to such practices of dishonesty and unfairness. Black money, tax evasion, money laundering, terrorism and the like are manifestations of lack of integrity and ethics. We all know how badly India and the world are affected by these serious crimes. In March 2018, it was reported that the amount of black money that was pooled into Swiss banks and other offshore numismatic organizations stood at staggering US $ 1500 billion equal to Rs 90 million crores! The causes of these nuisances are many: clandestine official practices, rigid bureaucracy, poor regulation, outdated internal control to name a few. In the presence of such toxic blemishes on the face of our country, we stand at an unfavorable destination from the point of view of the outsiders. Amid such disturbing and chaotic situation, the only possible remedy that would come handy in repairing the system would be to check the practice of unethical and dishonest affairs. Efforts at individual and collective levels are needed to curb this menace. It’s very encouraging to see various efforts being done at various levels that have evolved in the recent past.

Today, integrity, accountability & vigilance have become the order of the day. Governments and organizations have understood the importance of integrity in day to day dealings. This is the reason behind the emergence of Central Vigilance Commission. Although CVC was established way back in 1964 but it gained its ‘statutory status’ in 1998. After approval from both the houses of the Parliament in 2003, the President gave assent to CVC Bill on September 11, 2003. Thus the Central Vigilance Commission Act 2003 came into effect. Today, CVC acts as the apex body that controls, reviews, reforms and executes various matters pertaining to the vigilant work of various central government authorities. It observes “Vigilance Awareness Week” every year to spread awareness about various measures put in place to report and check corruption. It also motivates employees of various organizations and departments to take the “integrity pledge” and act in an ethical manner while performing their duties. This year’s ‘Vigilance Awareness Week’ was conducted from Oct 28 to Nov 02 with the theme “Integrity-A Way of Life”.

Another measure adopted by organizations and government departments towards a corruption-free environment is the automation of activities exposed to corruption. CVC has advised organizations to adopt Information Technology (IT) in their systems so as to leave miniscule opportunity of misuse by unscrupulous elements. Automation and computerization have miraculously reduced the chances of misuse by eliminating the off-line and physical handling of documents, processes and operations. DBT (Direct Benefit Transfer) is one such initiative that has transformed the way in which public payments were made in the country. Today, more than 70 schemes pertaining to more than 17 ministries have been automated with the help of DBT mechanism.

While CVC, government departments and organizations have made efforts to deal with the menace at the levels of public sector, also known as ‘demand side’ in corruption economics, various steps have been taken at global level to deal with the practice of feeding money by the private sector. It’s actually the private sector that pays the payola. Corruption economists use the jargon ‘supply side’ to refer to this section of people and organizations. Various countries have articulated ‘Foreign Corrupt Practices Act’ to deal with the ‘supply side’ of corruption. Those who haven’t formulated such acts are signatories to ‘Anti Bribery Conventions’. Therefore, international pressure is building over countries to adopt stricter laws to ensure the presence of integrity among people.

In the fight against corruption, there have been a number of developments. India joined United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) alongwith 160 other countries in May 2011. Similarly, Company Bill 2012, Public Private Partnership (PPP), Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials and Officials of Public International Organizations Bill 2011, The Anti-Corruption Action Plan set out in 2010 at the Seoul G20 and so on are examples of how the world is recognizing integrity as one of the most important implementations to be done.

Nowadays, there is no escape from integrity; integrity is now indispensable; it’s not a choice anymore but a necessity of life. However, it’s needed that public be made aware of the laws in place. It’s also needed that public be encouraged to make use of these laws and raise their voice against the demand of backhanders and inducements. When these goals are achieved, the world will become a better place to live in and a place where integrity is the way of life.

The author is MBA, IBPS, NET. He is Officer In charge at a PSU bank. The views are personal.