Dec. 9 was United Nations Anti-Corruption Day, and while in India recently, I learned about the terrible price citizens in South Asia pay for corruption.

Whereas the United States’ corruption rating is 7.1, with 10 being the least corrupt, India ranks 3.3 and Bangladesh ranks 2.4. Some of the Scandinavian countries, Canada and Australia rank as the least corrupt.

The saying “just say no” has to do with drugs in the United States, but in India, it means saying no when a bribe is requested by a public servant. That must be hard for the average person or poor person to do, since they are giving money to grease the palm so that a necessary service — such as getting a license, permit or other official document — will occur sooner than later.

It may be easier for industry to “just say no.” As a U.N.-backed campaign says, “Your no counts.”

If a business trying to get permits — say, in India — is American, the business is governed by the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The organization Transparency International lobbied in 1998 to put more teeth into this act. Transparency International is a nonprofit that works with business and super-NGOs, such as the World Bank, to improve reporting of how money is spent for public purposes and by business. Without transparency, TI reasons, the poor, in the end, are most affected with loss of jobs and reduced quality of life.

However, it is not really enough to have a law: it takes moral and ethical business practices to reduce corruption. What Transparency International suggests is that there is power in numbers.

If more businesses agreed not to pay bribes, they might have more success in stopping corruption. Other nonprofits, such as — which asks people to report when they pay a bribe, didn’t pay a bribe, or when a public servant refuses a bribe — take the approach of showing how much money is siphoned off and shaming government for its action. Another nonprofit, the Fifth Pillar, sponsors a “zero rupee note” to give to those who ask for bribes. This idea has spread to other countries and now Fifth Pillar is creating “zero denomination money” to be used in other countries.

What surprised me most in India was that police were reported to be among the most corrupt units of government. We must be thankful that we are Americans, and our problems are minor. Rarely do we read of bribing police officers here.

But Indians fear their police. There is little or no understanding of the idea of “to protect and serve,” let alone community policing. This undermines the whole of civic society.

When government law enforcement officials are corrupt, there is no recourse at the lowest level of government that has regular interaction with the public. In India, the Supreme Court intervenes extensively by mandating reforms. But that is not really enough.

Political officials and the highest level of law enforcement must believe it is important for officers to be honest and help citizens. Then they must institute training and reinforce it by their words and actions.

Right now that seems laughable when the Indian government commission that sponsored a conference on transparency for Anti-Corruption Day may have as its highest commissioner a man himself accused of taking bribes.

The Supreme Court is considering whether it should be a job requirement that the commissioner be beyond reproach. I’d say the answer is yes!

Carolyn Ball is an associate professor of public administration and director of graduate programs at the University of Maine.