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.