Corruption, Building Collapse and Human Misery
Posted on May 22nd, 2017

Dr. Chandana Jayalath

Illegal construction is construction without a valid construction permit. Illegal building activity can be a major environmental violation when the works encroach upon preserve areas like nature reserves. Likewise, illegal building can have serious political implications when it is practiced as land grabbing or for illegal settling in territories belonging to public. This may be perhaps due to profitable speculation with and exploitation of valuable real property. Even construction works with apparently valid permits can of cause be a result of bribery. Increased landslide risk has been found to be associated with illegal building in hillside regions of densely populated urban areas. Welalwatte is the recent most example we have for encroaching river embankment.

Aftermath the 5 storied building collapse, The Ministry of Disaster Management said that it is hoping to locate substantive information. When questioned if there are concerns on the standard of the building, the Ministry said that it cannot be ascertained as yet” without proper information. The situation is risky because the building has tilted.” despite being repaired, the building standards are quite old”. We know, even to make repairs, and there is a need for approval from the Urban Council’s Planning Unit. The building owner’s relative said in media that they have approval. Planning unit says if it is true, they are inquiring as to whether this process has been followed. I suggest the question must be in other way round. Who took bribes? Who is responsible for not monitoring? Who ignored enforcing legal remedies if the building owner disregarded approval process?

Whatever said and done, correspondingly, when corruption is widespread, it can have devastating effects on a society. Economic effects of corruption can be severe. It often harms the poorest in a society. The badly needed are often fallen into utter neglect. Meeriyabedda and Meethotamulla were the recent classic examples we surpassed, the context which I tried to lay down a couple of concerns from the stake of the public, in form of a book.

During my literature survey before taking the pen to start writing the book titled Taming Construction related Corruption, I came across one interest paragraph in a book written by Frank Vogel. He says, Corruption needs to be seen in terms of the full scale of the human misery that it creates. Corruption traps hundreds of millions of very poor people in utter squalor. Building contractors in Haiti paid off officials to circumvent building codes. Buildings collapsed in the earthquake of January 2010, killing tens of thousands of people- the same story in China and Turkey in the recent past. We know more today about the scale and scope of bribery and how it most affects the general public. These surveys track the staggering scale of human impoverishment that can directly and indirectly be attributed to bad governance”.  I am now asking ‘did you pay any ransom to the TO (Technical Officer) in the municipality to get approval for your house design? If you say No, you are lucky that you have compromised your own safety.

Corruption kills. In nutshell, corruption is the abuse of public power, resources and belongings for personal ends.  It takes many forms and shapes. Despite the fact that there are systems in place, perpetrators are yet skilled in developing new ways to be corrupt and cover their trickeries, frauds and scams. Opportunity costs of corruption are much more than the actual prima-facie direct losses. It goes beyond money. That means, corruption kills. Countries with the weakest governance structures tend to be those that most involved in corruption. Sri Lanka is a classic example.

Simply put in laymen’s jargon, it may be your uncle that died in a road traffic accident, due to bad roads; your cousin who died in childbirth; the people that have died from lack of infrastructure in hospitals would stay dead; similarly, those who had to leave their lives due to garbage heaps forcefully stockpiled adjacent to living areas by municipalities. So it’s not about getting the money back. It is about ensuring that the money doesn’t get stolen in the first place.

Truly, the citizens are compelled to pay for services that should be free; state budgets are pillaged by corrupt politicians; public spending is distorted as decision-makers focus spending on activities likely to yield large bribes like major public works; foreign investment is stymied as businesses are reluctant to invest in uncertain environments; and economies suffer. Now, Wellawatte is a just a retail corruption.

Corruption not only costs in terms of money. It costs in terms of public trust and citizens’ willingness to actively participate in their societal functions. Most of the time, corrupt officials are like parasites that feed off society and benefit only themselves. Technical officers at municipalities are well known corrupt agents. Furthermore, as corruption becomes more prevalent, ethical people lose faith in the system and are sapped of their drive to work honestly. Therefore, corruption is a serious public issue causing heavy public injustice.

Corruption often fosters, and thrives, in conflict and war. Indeed, high levels of corruption can increase the likelihood of a protracted conflict. For example, efforts to tackle climate change can also be undermined by corruption as bribes are paid to ignore environmental protection rules in the pursuit of quick profits. Just talk about mosquitoes. Who are at the payroll of mosquito ring manufacturers? None other than the dirty politicians! In these ways state security and the very values of democracy can be undermined. Finally, the development goals turn out to be a myth.

There is a proper function of opportunity cost in corruption. On one hand, it takes place due to the intention of officials to acquire additional benefit out of their legal remunerations. They are assuring of accusation in any time. They are aware of the aftereffects of the practice. So they will compare the benefit, which acquired in illegal manner and the humiliation due to being accused. The premise is that corruption occurs only if anyone offers an amount which compensates the cost of being accused and humiliations. What a saga!

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