activism development social justice websites

I paid a bribe: the wiki approach to fighting corruption

Here’s something I heard on the radio yesterday and found rather inspiring. A website in India has harnessed the power of the citizen reporting to fight endemic corruption, through a website called Ipaidabribe.com.

The website provides people with an opportunity to anonymously report where and when they were forced to pay a bribe. For example, getting a marriage or birth certificate, passing a driving test, getting through customs or even reporting a crime to the police.

With thousands of people sharing these stories of obstruction and rent-seeking, the website can collect data and identify the points in the system where bribery occurs. Corruption thrives on bureaucracy, and the more processes, the more  opportunities there are for officials to solicit bribes. Without data, these bottlenecks are never identified, but Ipaidabribe shines a light on them.

Once collected, that bribery data can then be presented to the government department concerned, and the problem can be dealt with. One success story has been the Department of Transport. The site was able to demonstrate that applying for a drivers license required a bribe, and so the department put the application process online. By automating it, there was no official with a desk and a rubber stamp to stand in the way of people seeking a license.

Having lived in a country with endemic corruption, the sense of powerlessness is part of everyday life. Democracy is undermined, the poor are oppressed further, and public trust is entirely absent. Everything, from the big processes like getting your child in school, to the little ones like picking up a prescription, are subject to the illegal shadow ‘tax’ of bribery. Research in Kenya showed the average urban Kenyan paid 18 bribes a month, at a cost of £93. Imagine being robbed of £93 a month, every month. Now imagine that you only earn £300 a month in the first place, and you can see just how badly this needs to be fixed.

I don’t know about you, but I think this is a really exciting story. Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy may have just unleashed a huge force for social good, and I look forward to seeing these sorts of projects set up elsewhere. In fact, I will write to DFID and tell them that this is the kind of thing we should be spending our aid budget on. Perhaps you’d like to do the same.

 

18 comments

  1. Unfortunatly this has been tried before http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stasi although open democracy would help in alleviating the problem. As for “Once collected, that bribery data can then be presented to the government department concerned, and the problem can be dealt with.”… I can imagine what kind of problems that would entail.

  2. No, it’s the complete opposite of the Stasi. That was the state investigating its citizens. This is citizens investigating the state.
    Besides, the whole thing is anonymous, and specific officials are not identified. It is about reforming the system, not catching individuals. And so far, government departments have responded well.

    1. Hi Jeremy, it’s not ‘the system’ stealing, it’s the people. As people man the systems, irrespective of system, they steal from it. Also, with anonimity, we remove accountability.

      You have mentioned “This is citizens investigating the state.”… how many tyrants to you figure that’s going to topple?

      1. The point isn’t to topple tyrants. It is to help government departments identify concentrations of corruption to be able to address them at a systematic level (see drivers license example). I think it sounds like a very interesting idea. It does of course rely on governmental desire to address the issue (which in some very corrupt nations may itself be an issue), but it is a good example of collaborative action.

        1. Byron, it isn’t the stable, open and inclusive western democracies that are most imperiled by corruption. I think it goes without saying that corruption is a yardstick for poor governance. I don’t think Idi Amin bothered with a ‘snitch line’, but my guess is Uncle Joe did.

          1. Jeff, I can’t see why you’re against this. This is all about freedom, democracy, and citizen empowerment. It’s great for development, it’s practically apolitical. Rather than snooping on individual officials, it is gathering anonymous information, identifying patterns, and reforming bureaucracy to eliminate opportunities for bribery at all. It is people working with each other to reform a systemic problem.

            The only reasons I can see for you to be against the idea are
            a) you’ve not understood it
            b) you are pro-corruption
            c) or you plan to reject everything I write about as a matter of principle

            My guess is you’ve never lived in a country with endemic corruption, so I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and go with a)

          2. Jeremy, I honestly don’t think that a ‘snitch line’ is going to provide any more wisdom, or, shine a brighter light on corruption than already exists. Citizen empowerment is called a vote. By voting you empower yourself. You have the responsibility to vote responsibly, should you choose not to you get the governance you deserve. If the average person is gulible enough to vote for a party that promises everything (see Britain), they in effect are being bribed… albeit with their own money.

            When you say it’s an opportunity to “eliminate opportunities for bribery at all.” you may as well do the same for murder, theft and other crimes. I’m sure it will have the same results.

            Would you not agree that corruption has a greater proportionate influence the poorer you are? If so, how does a web site help the poorest of the poor who don’t own a computer and ,oh by the way, are illiterate (like my spelling at times!). I’m sure Facebook and Twitter influenced the Arab Spring when all of a sudden the adobe village got high-speed.

            I’m amazed at your confession of being a closet Republican (Conservative) “Corruption thrives on bureaucracy, and the more processes, the more opportunities there are for officials to solicit bribes.” as an advocate for smaller government I’m looking forward to hearing you speak in your community supporting Coservative values.

            I can only insist that corruption is criminal and that the rules in place, having never been a barrier before to abuse, will not change peoples behaviour.

            As an aside, when you say “or you (me) plan to reject everything I write about as a matter of principle” is unfair and untrue. I have never spoken about much of your ideas, religion for example, and in fact have spoken in approval of your blog rules… leaving to your judgement your calls in banning. Not one word. At the same time unwarranted and inflamatory words are quoted from your reviewed sources, particularly regarding America, that simply espouse stereotipical mentalities. It’s my opinion that the litany you trot out as a sincere concern for the world is the same litany trotted out by those seeking to impose their belief structure on society.

            I guess it’s all a matter of perspective, from where I sit, you disagree with everything I say. I don’t think it’s a matter of principle, I’m not worth the effort, I just think you have a different opinion.

            I have “lived in a country with endemic corruption” it’s called the Liberal Party of Canada!

            All the best….. Jeff

          3. Okay, so it is a) then. Here’s a few of the things you haven’t understood here:

            – it’s not a snitch line. (‘Anonymous snitching’ is an oxymoron, surely?)
            – Voting is one form of citizen empowerment, but there are plenty of others, including the right to contacting or meeting your representatives, lobbying your government, submitting petitions, etc.
            – India has a major software development industry, is an active democracy, and has 75% literacy. Sure, the site doesn’t reach everyone, but that doesn’t make it irrelevant.
            – Bureaucracy is not the same thing as small government. It’s inefficiency, red tape. It happens in both small and large governments.
            – As I suspected, you haven’t lived in a country with endemic corruption.

            I’m wondering why you keep insisting that the website can’t possibly work, when I reported this as a good news story because it has already worked. The site is a proven success. The Department for Transport has changed the entire drivers license application process in response to their investigations.

            Check out the site, and read some of the bribe stories. Two minutes will be enough to change your mind.

          4. I still don’t understand Jeremy, can you clarify for me?

            1. When you say “…it’s not a snitch line. (‘Anonymous snitching’ is an oxymoron…)” and “…provides people with an opportunity to anonymously report …” I miss the point entirely. Are they not one and the same? Can you explain what’s oxymoronic about it?

            2. “Voting is one form of citizen empowerment” but isn’t it THE most crucial? The other empowerments you mention are a direct result of the expression of the vote. I’m just wondering how many petitions Stalin listened to.

            3. As impressed as I am with India’s “major software development industry” it doesn’t negate the fact that India ranks 129th of 150 in Personal computers (per capita) (most recent) by country http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/med_per_com_percap-media-personal-computers-per-capita with 15.5 computers per 1,000,000 people. Compounding that fact is that 26% of the population neither reads or writes. As you say yourself “Sure, the site doesn’t reach everyone, but that doesn’t make it irrelevant.” Yes Jeremy, yes it does make it irrelevant. Unless, of course, the poor aren’t the target of the help.

            4. I disagree when you say “Bureaucracy is not the same thing as small government”. British employment is 53% public sector and 47% private sector. You have achieved the public sector union holy grail of employing and paying enough people to revote you into office! Red tape??? What about your vats of red ink!??!!?!??!

            Perhaps I’m just not impressed by sideshow programs that purport to achieve a result and are only there to obfuscate and delay real implementation of real solutions to the problem of government corruption. Then again as you’ve noted “(I) haven’t lived in a country with endemic corruption.”. No, I live in Canada where rule of law applies equally, uniformly and paramountly… no exceptions, and as such reap the benefits of the efforts we’ve sown.

          5. Jeff,
            1. Let us define what is meant by snitching. If we are talking about dobbing in individuals to the authorities in order that they might get in trouble, then this is not a snitch line, since individuals are not named, either as the source or object of the complaint.

            2. Voting is one part of a functioning civil society, but it is not actually a sine qua non for responsible government. Nor is it sufficient, as countless dictatorships with 99% of the vote attest. Stalin was elected too. But I think this is something of a red herring. We all agree that democracy and a civil society require more than open and transparent elections. Indeed, the very need to include the word “transparent” in that last phrase indicates that voting alone is insufficient to ensure an open society.

            3. I note your source is from 2005. India’s internet usage has been growing by up to 20% per year and current estimates put the total number of users between 25,000,000 and 100,000,000 (source), making it the third largest internet market in the world. Mobile internet users has grown from 2 million in 2007 to something like 40 million today. You are right that this remains a relatively low level of penetration, but with very rapid growth rates, this many users brings huge potential to identify corruption bottlenecks. Since this is the aim of the site, rather than the logging of every instance of corruption, it may well be sufficient to have a representative sample of users. As you rightly point out, the poorest are those least likely to have access to the internet, and so it is legitimate to wonder whether a representative sample is being gained. Still, over the last five years, the percentage of rural Indian households who report having paid a bribe in the previous twelve months has dropped from 56% to 28%. And every tool that increases accountability is a good thing, right? Can you explain how this is a distraction given that it has already achieved something tangible?

            4. Can you give a source for your claim about UK public sector employment? According the data here (full data set here), it is 20.4% of the workforce, down from 23.1% under the Conservatives in 1992. Can you explain how your statistic (even were it accurate) refutes Jeremy’s distinction between bureaucracy and small government?

          6. Hi Byron, if that is your real name.

            1. Fair enough
            2. I disagree entirely. The vote is the mark at the ballot of empowerment. Although I had to look it up it is sine qua non, indispensable. Don’t become confused between a legitimate vote and one claiming to be one.
            3. Thanks for the newest stats I couldn’t find anything newer at the time. I intended to reference the date but I must have slipped up. Upon looking at the stats yours was in internet users, mine is in number of computers. That said, I’m suspect of the number (15.5) I’ve provided… it seems to me unreasonably small. Perhaps someone reading might be able to shed clearer light, but I’m thinking the number, and the chart may be wrong. (Added later)-> it must be wrong because it sez Canada has 22,000 private computers as of 2005. Our pop. is about 33 mil, @ 3 per home means 1 in 500 homes have a computer??? no way Jose. Darn, I hate it when I disprove my own stat! But such is math. As an aside the web site can’t be credited for reduction in bribe rate “over the last five years” unless it’s over 5 years old. Previous initiatives have done that. Such is math.
            4. The 53% represents directly employed in the public sector, unemployment recipients, pensioners and private industry employed by government. The calculation is thus open for interpretation ie. a private sector job employed by government would be seen as a government job. It’s calculated as a measure of Gross Domestic Product compared to government spending. A bit dodgy but similar to unsecured liabilities as government debt. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=thUrVB7bFdE&feature=related “Britain’s Trillion Pound Horror Story”. As for small government and small bureaucracy, you don’t seem to see that they are one and the same. The bureaucracy is the enforcement side of governance. Big government refers not to size of parliament, but the intrusion of the state. The bureaucracy is the regulator of all order. But like climate (har-dee-har-har-har) we live in a delicate balance of existance… unlike some EU member countries, I don’t see India or China teetering on bankrupcy.

            In all honesty any step in the right direction helps and darkness can only exist where there is no light.

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