Wednesday, April 4, 2012

I Paid a Bribe – Ordinary People Fight Corrupt Bureaucrats

What are the costs of getting a professor post in Hyderabad India? 380’000 rupees (~ $7’500). The expenses of obtaining a driving license vary from 100 to 3’500 rupees. The purchase of the international driving license costs even 5’000 rupees (~$95).
This is the price of so called “retail corruption”, the sort of petty bribery that affects everyday life in many parts of the world.

Swati Ramanathan and her husband set out to change all this in August 2010.[1] They started the webpage to uncover the market price of corruption. On the site people can anonymously report bribes they paid, bribes that were requested but not paid and requests that were expected but not forthcoming. The webpage offers detailed analysis of the bribes reported so far concerning the departments and the cities where corruption occurs. In India for example as well as in Kenya the police department is the organization that asks most often for extraordinary “fees”.

The webpage is booming: up until now it received 400’000 reports of illicit payments for routine work. In the first three days of April, already more than 20 bribe payments have been reported in India. The webpage idea is spreading around the globe. Nongovernmental and governmental organizations from at least 17 countries have contacted Janaagraha, the nonprofit organization in Bangalore that operates The organizations were asking about setting up a site of their own. In Kenya for example the site is operated under the same name and in Pakistan it is called The Pakistani site estimates that over the last four years the country’s economy has lost about $94 billion to corruption, tax evasion and weak governance!

All these websites, even if no names are given and the reports therefore cannot be verified, have got an impact. This impact is threatening enough that when similar sites popped up in China last summer, the government stamped them out within a couple of weeks, contending they had failed to register with the authorities. In Bangalore for example, helped to push through reforms in the motor vehicle department. Citizen apply now online for licenses.

Thanks to social media the average person obtained powerful tools to fight endemic corruption. By reading the bribe payers reports you get an idea about the anger and shame people feel by paying bribes to officials. The anonymity provided by the internet gives people the chance to talk about their experiences concerning the contacts with officials in everyday life. These exchanges over the internet serve as an awareness raising instrument. People get aware of other concerned people who are totally upset about this corruption. Social media gives them the possibility to demand change. Corruption is therefore no more seen as a problem that ordinary people cannot do anything about it. Based on this awareness social movements against corruption can grow and corruption can be tackled by harnessing the collective energy of citizens.

Sabrina Stucki

[1] The following information is based on the article „Web Sites Shine Light on Petty Bribery Worldwide“, The New York Times, 06.03.2012 and on the webpage

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