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Denmark, where our politicians will feel like fish out of water

Tuesday, 13 November 2012 - 9:30am IST | Place: Copenhagen | Agency: DNA
Denmark has topped the charts of having the happiest and most satisfied people in the world while being the least corrupt.

If the people of the country are happy, corruption levels are bound to go down — that is Denmark’s lesson for India.

The country has topped the charts of having the happiest and most satisfied people in the world while being the least corrupt. Over the years, Denmark has consistently ranked 9.3 out of 10 in the corruption perceptions index. India’s score is a dismal 3.3.

People in general credit the homogeneity of the society, the modest lifestyle of politicians, a robust ombudsman, and a free media for such low corruption levels.

Mogens Lykketoft, speaker of Denmark’s parliament, cycles about 10km every day to reach his office. And he is not alone. Speaking to DNA, he said the country’s democracy built on the foundations of a strong trade union movement could be another reason why the society is not plagued by corruption.

But these apart, certain measures like direct state funding of political parties and their election campaigns from state budget ensure parties don’t go asking for favours.

“We give each party funds for each vote they got in the previous election — both at the national and regional level,” he said. “My party, the Socialist Democratic Party, got at least 20 million Danish Krone that makes 10 Krone (Rs100) for every vote.”

Lykketoft, who has headed finance as well as foreign ministries in the past, spent $20,000 in his constituency during the last election in 2011.

“And not a single penny from my pocket. The money came either from the party or from public  funding,” he said. Also, shorter election campaigns — lasting for just three weeks — help.

Anti-corruption measures are so strict that the shipping minister found himself in a tight spot following media reports that he had accepted a luxury watch from a leading Danish cargo company after inaugurating its big shipping project.

In another instance, politicians who had accepted free tickets to watch a football match had to return them after media reports.

The speaker said any gift costing 250 Danish Krone (about Rs2,500) falls under the tax evasion law. A foreign minister had to resign some time in the 1980s as she had hired a room in London’s Ritz Hotel costing some $1,000, he said. “She had agreed to bear the cost; but people could not accept the fact a politician was involved in extravagance.”

Ayfer Baykal, technical and environmental mayor of Copenhagen, has been struggling to rid the city of fossil fuels. He said an institutional structure where people don’t have to pester government officials for their daily work helps. But the commitment to fight corruption has to come from politicians, Baykal said.

Denmark-based vice-chairman of Transparency International Knut Gotfredsen, said a powerful national auditor, along with an ombudsman, has ensured corruption levels are low.

The parliamentary ombudsman can investigate complaints against any authority even the prime minister on his own initiative.

And then there are laws to punish those who give bribes. This keeps in check private companies as wells as individuals.

Klavs Rothstein, a senior journalist, and his colleague Jens Ringberg, a  leading political commentator, belive the modest living standards of politicians and top civil servants, a uniform educational system, and a tradition of transparent and open society have contributed towards making Denmark free of corruption.


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