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Perceiving corruption

Bhutan’s ranking in the corruption perception index has improved by a notch with Transparency International ranking the country as the 26th cleanest country.

This improvement is encouraging for the country had remained in the 27th position for two years in a row. High levels of corruption perception could breed a culture of distrust in a society and this culture could be as much damaging as corruption itself. To learn that Bhutan’s corruption perception index has improved is reassuring.

While we commend the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) for its efforts to fight corruption and to educate people on vices of corruption, there is as much a need for the society to comprehend and question what such rankings and perceptions mean for the country and its people. The perception of corruption also does not mean that there is no corruption happening in a society.

What makes the improved ranking a bit unpalatable is that it has come at a time when the government and the opposition have created a spectacle by accusing each other of corrupt practices. Both claim that there is nothing political about this. Or so they perceive. It has also come at a time when the government has sent the labour minister on leave to allow the ACC to investigate alleged corruption in the ministry.

But for an elected government that governs for a fixed time, rankings such as this could also be perceived otherwise. Seeing the ranking over a span of four years, some were quick to point out how Bhutan’s ranking has improved from 31 to 26. Nothing political, indeed.

When a recent ACC’s report pointed out perceptions of corruption in public road construction, the government questioned the research findings. It said they cannot take action on perception and dismissed the research as a mere desk study. Now, the government lauds the improved ranking on corruption perception.

If the issue of corruption is merely about perspectives, then it becomes important to know whose perception matters more in a democracy? Since corruption and perception of corruption also depends on how a society understands the laws and what constitutes a deviation, corruption and its perceptions could be considered as a cultural phenomenon. How corruption is perceived indicates the level of corruption occurring in a society. It indicates a society’s tolerance to corruption.

The ACC while investigating corrupt practices also educates the people on preventing corruption. Public education plays an important role in shaping the people’s perception towards corruption.

The improved ranking must not make the ACC and others complacent. The challenge is to sustain the progress and become more proactive, not wait for agencies to feed cases.

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