Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Commonwealth Games Corruption Scandal: The Lessons We Should Be Learning

It is clear that the Commonwealth Games have become a "political issue."  Why even the Queen of England is reported to be in a "cold fury" over the scandal!  It is not surprising that opposition parties from the left and the right are doing their best to inflict damage on the government for the corruption and incompetence it tolerated and/or encouraged. With the news coming that the NDMC has given up even trying to complete work at CP in time, and will simply cover up much of it with tonnes of loose earth and pavement until after the Games are over, the noise is bound to get louder.

Of course much of the opposition has its crooked fingers in many other jars of ghee, so it's easy to feel just a little cynical about the outrage we are hearing from some quarters.  But let's not forget that this is how democracy is supposed to work; if you are in power and you or your friends allow or participate in evil deeds, then it is the job of the opposition (and the press, of course) to make you pay a price!  Without the fear of paying that price, things would almost certainly be a lot worse than they are, which is why even flawed democracy is usually better than dictatorship. 

Let's hope Congress has learned this lesson well enough to go after the people responsible for this mess, starting as high up as the rot goes.  Resignations and suspensions of members of the CWG Organising Committee are a fine place to start, but more action will undoubtedly be required.  

Speaking of lessons learned, I'm glad most people in Delhi are taking a hard look at the Games.  But I'm concerned about how many of these conversations go.

What I hear too much of:
  1. "It's so embarrassing that the whole world is going to see what a messy city Delhi is."
  2. "It is terrible that my tax money has been wasted on corruption."
  3. "This was a good idea that was poorly executed."
It's not that these ideas are necessarily wrong.  It's just that they lack depth--and they don't do much to move us forward.  I'd much rather hear more of this:
  1. It is shameful that the contractors charged with undertaking World Class projects were not required to pay even minimum wages or to meet minimum labour standards. Haven't you seen all those children of workers spending their days on the side of the road?  Why couldn't someone have set up a few mobile creches?  And it's criminal that so many workers died as a result of this negligence.
  2. In a city where so many people lack decent housing and clean water,  isn't it terrible that public money that should have been used for the public good was stolen by corrupt officials and contractors? That is the worst kind of theft!
  3. This was a bad idea from the start because we put false ideas of national pride before things that matter more, like schools, housing, food security and water.  The corruption and incompetence only made the situation worse.
Try talking to the people you meet every day about this.  Most of these arguments don't require statistics, just common sense, so I didn't include as many hyper links as I usually do.   We just need to learn how to frame the issues in a way that leads to more honest and productive results.  (If you do want some statistics to back up your arguments, go to our special CWG page. )

And if you want to do something, take a look at ACORN International's Commonwealth Games Campaign.  If you are a student, why not work to fight the evictions at Delhi UniversityAnd whoever you are, why not write a letter to the editor of your newspaper or your local government official?


    1. Suppose you were to recommend legislation to prevent this sort of thing happening again, what would you recommend? It must be something striking at the root of the problem and broad enough to cover all instances...

    2. CWG is a wake-up call for us. We must fight corruption. It’s now or never. Here are five ways to stop corruption :
      Vote: Voting is your constitutional right so get informed, take responsibility and cast your vote. It's one way of ensuring your voice is heard.
      Demand Accountability: In a democracy like India, the Government is responsible & accountable to its citizens. So more power to Right to Information Act, ask questions!
      Be The Change You Want To See: Want to curb corruption? Keep yourself updated about political, social & economical developments & better your sense of right and wrong.
      Educate: Fight corruption by creating awareness & educating people about their rights. If you know something isn't the way it should be, protest!
      Participate: Live you beliefs and be an active voice in society. Gather the courage to fight and remedy the situation. Remember, each voice matters!
      Source: http://www.jaagore.com/issues/corruption/details/fiveways

    3. @Bhagwad, A good question, with no simple answers that I can see. I'm glad Rahi came along because in that reply you see the kind of multi-pronged approach that will be required. It's not that the laws aren't there; it's that they are too often ignored. I DO think the Right To Information Act has the potential to be a powerful tool in the long run. I might also just add that I think there is need to think about how we frame corruption. Too often it is seen as just a "bad thing". But not all corruption is the same; I think it needs to be understood in terms of the power involved...having a police officer take a small bribe from a motorist is bad, but it is not the same thing as when a large contractor, aided by government officials, systematically over charges for goods and fails to abide by wage and labour laws. Both are bad, but they will require different solutions. In the case of the large contractor, the answer has to include politics, the press, etc. In the case of the police officer, sound supervision and administrative policies might make a big difference; the politics might only come in at the point where the high-level officials are seen to be supporting corrupt officers...

      That's a start to an answer, but it lacks much, I know. Enormously complex.

      @Rafi, thanks for your perspective--very helpful.

    4. Incidentally Hari, the government passed the whistleblower protection act yesterday. That's a pretty awesome thing!

    5. @Bhagwad--I just saw that; it's good news indeed.

    6. Dear Hari Batti,

      Its amazing to read the wide coverage of "other side of Pride of India-CWG". Green Light Dhaba gives us a picture of how alternative or new media should look like.
      Best wishes

    7. @Kabir--Thank you; we are trying. Hope you are well.

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    What do you think?