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Asking the right questions about graft

India's biggest anti-corruption party asked people in Delhi what they worry about most. The answer wasn't corruption but drinking water.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was formed after Delhiites turned out in huge numbers a few years ago during the nationwide India Against Corruption campaign.

For its survey, the AAP canvassed 34,425 respondents. After clean water, their concerns (in order of rank) were cleanliness of the environment, bad roads, power cuts, inflation, safety of women, and car parking. Only then came corruption -- the top concern of just 3% of the people.

The AAP has done a lot of good work. But seeing graft as a problem separate from much of what else ails India is a mistake. The root cause of the water shortages, bad roads, and power cuts is graft. Money that could have been spent building and maintaining infrastructure instead ends up in the pocket of politicians and bureaucrats.

Earlier this year, author Laurence Cockcroft talked to the FCPA Blog about what he called the ‘knock on’ effects of corruption. About four billion people, he said, including those in India and China, suffer from endemic corruption. It hits their daily lives in both direct and indirect ways. ‘This frequently extends to a failure of access to water, health services and education except on exploitative terms,’ Cockcroft said.

And as he explained in his book, Global Corruption: Money, Power, and Ethics in the Modern World, small-scale graft and grand corruption are equal parts of the problem. Extracting little bribes from people keeps them poor and powerless, and often denies them education, health care, and police protection. Grand corruption, meanwhile, sets the tone of impunity, creates unresponsive elites, and siphons huge sums meant for the infrastructure that's supposed to make life better.

Poll-taking by political parties like the AAP and other groups isn't a bad thing. It's good to know what people are worried about. But any survey or discussion that promotes the idea of graft as a separate problem, and not a cause of poverty and misery for billions of people, is misleading and harmful.


Richard L. Cassin is the Publisher and Editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.