C=M+D-A. As Robert Klitgaard puts it, “Corruption equals Monopoly plus Discretion minus Accountability”.
Corruption, especially political, is rampant in India, where it is seen as commonplace and citizens come face to face with it in their daily lives. It leads to severe injustice in a society and can even effect people’s survival. In the recent New Tactics dialogue on corruption, Shaazka Beyerle, Senior Advisor of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, gives the example of a widow who cannot access food through the Public Distribution System because the government official demands a bribe to issue her a ration card. Citizens who cannot afford to pay up suffer due to their inability, and those who can have no option than to give in to corruption. There has been increasing anger and frustration against bribery, but at the same time there is a high level of tolerance too. Some citizens habitually offer bribes in exchange for services, further perpetuating corruption.
I Paid A Bribe tries to address this complex issue that mars the Indian society. It encourages people to not put up with official abuse of power and to report their stories of bribery to “uncover the market price of corruption.” People can report when they paid a bribe, when they didn’t and when they weren’t asked to pay one by submitting their story through a form, blogging about it or even posting a video.
This initiative, organized by Janaagraha, was launched on August 15 (India’s Independence Day), 2010. T R Raghunandan, a former senior civil servant and now the coordinator of the initiative, says the goal is “to build a snapshot of the corruption scenario in India.” Janaagraha has developed an innovative tactic to deal with corruption. The idea is less focused on taking action with specific departments based on individual citizen reports, but rather to use a systematized process to identify the most serious areas of corruption. Raghunandan observes that “every society has a very good idea of the corruption that happens there”; what is needed, then, is a better understanding of how and why corruption happens. The reports posted on the website are aggregated and analyzed. These analyses expose the more corrupt departments, loopholes used by officials to demand bribes, situations in which bribes are demanded and so on, and after identifying situations and processes susceptible to corruption, Janaagraha approaches the departments and the government for action. The following illustration represents this.
The intent of I Paid a Bribe is also to encourage and empower more citizens so that they bring out their stories and experiences, which helps build more awareness. In addition to people’s reports on bribery, the homepage of the website has a slideshow giving some vital statistics. A map titled “Corruption Commons” lists out the number of complaints from different states of India. The seriousness of the issue is brought out in these various ways, helping corruption and bribery change from something people just talk about into an issue people can do something about. People can act through a simple, easy and non-threatening process, where they are not required to identify themselves or give an individual official’s name in their reports.
Other interesting and interactive features include the “Ask Raghu” section. Raghunandan answers specific questions that people ask, providing them with the information they need. He explains that people are usually very fearful of the government, something that is mainly due to lack of information. There should be more information available so that people are more confident to deal with officials and can put their foot down on following the laid procedures and not paying a bribe. There are plans to put out White papers, the first one being on Land and Property Registration in a month’s time along with a video feature, so that people are equipped with the right knowledge about the procedures, fees, time needed and the duties of the officials. The ‘Impact’ section mentions cases in which people have been able to stand against bribery through information Janaagraha had made available, and by simply raising their voice.
People can also give their suggestions and contribute to newer practical and tactical approaches to dealing with corruption on the website’s forum. Through this platform, citizens can share their experiences of corruption, be empowered to monitor the injustice against them and collaborate to fight against it.
So, “bribed? didn't bribe? powerless? victimised? angry? tell your story” and fight back!