Have you ever paid a bribe? Please share your story with all here.
A Goan is compelled to pay a Rs 70,000 bribe for permission to rebuild his family home in Margao after he is told, “Can’t be done, sir, not until…” For refusing to pay off a municipal employee, a 45-year old man in Ahmedabad is kept waiting a year to get his birth certificate. A New Delhi resident buckles and palms a 100-rupee note to a policeman accusing him of illegally operating his car as a cab while driving a foreigner friend to Agra.
IPaidABribe.com registers an astonishing assortment of first person anecdotes detailing bribe-giving across India. From Agartala to Vijayawada, it is a first-of-its-kind chronicle of you-and-me Indians’ brush with an array of corrupt government officials. By graphically detailing and recording the universality of this Indian problem, IPaidABribe wants to analyse patterns, change processes and tackle corruption.
Launched six weeks ago, IPaidABribe (IPAB) is already making waves on the internet. It was set up by the Bangalore-based Janaagraha, a non-profit that works to change the quality of life in urban India by working with both citizens and governments. In the short time since its launch, thousands of Indians have gone online to record their experiences under a laundry-list of headers: I paid a bribe, I didn’t pay a bribe, I didn’t have to pay a bribe, I don’t want to pay a bribe.
On its website, IPAB asserts that it wants citizens to “uncover the market price of corruption” and illustrates it with a graphic of a corporate employee bribing a policeman with his official entitlement of Sodexho food coupons. The numbers, types, locations, frequencies and value of bribes paid provide a snapshot of the extent of corruption in different cities. Janaagraha then uses them to argue for improved governance systems, tighter law enforcement and stricter regulation, thus reducing the scope of corruption.
According to Janaagraha co-founder Swati Ramanathan, recording a bribing incident is like owning up a sin in a confessional. She says IPAB is a “mandi”, a marketplace where prices for various services are openly shared. In order to encourage more ‘confessions’, IPAB does maintain the anonymity of the bribe-giver. It does not unmask the bribe-taking government official’s identity either — it aims to change processes and not target individuals.
As an early endorsement for its crusade, Janaagraha has just received a $3 million grant from the social philanthropy investment firm, Omidyar Foundation, backed by Pierre Omidyar, the founder of auction website eBay. This is the foundation’s first grant towards government transparency outside the United States. Enthused by the responses to IPAB, Sunlight Foundation, an American firm that works in digitising government documents in various US States, is talking about launching a similar initiative in the United States. The Foundation said the website would help heighten awareness about the subtle forms of corruption rampant in the United States.
The results are already beginning to show. Karnataka’s transport department has gleaned details of the bribes collected by transport officials based on the locations mentioned by the bribe givers. It has sent show-cause notices to 20 senior officials.
The initiative is headed by T.R. Raghunandan, an upright IAS officer who quit the civil service to join Janaagraha. In the “Ask Raghu” section of the website, the former official provides advice on how to deal with a policeman demanding a bribe or how to get a driving license or a passport without giving a bribe. Often, average people pay bribes because they do not have access to information on either the process or the fee to be paid for a particular service.
The website is supported by a dozen volunteers from Bangalore’s IT industry. To get more Indians involved, the website will launch in several regional languages. By speaking up, Indians will perhaps shame the system into reforming. The Goan who paid the bribe to restore the family home speaks up on IPAB: “I am Indian, but I’m ashamed of this bribery culture in all walks of life.”