I Paid a Bribe, and Tweeted About It


By Shrey Goyal, 2013 CIPE Blog Competition Winner. Read the other winning blogs here.

A few months ago, the Global Corruption Barometer 2013 by Transparency International (TI) told us that 47 percent of Indians think corruption is a serious problem in our public sector, and 68 percent feel the government is ineffective against it, with most corruption perceived to exist in political parties (86 percent), police (75 percent) and parliament/legislature (65 percent). It is evident that most Indians are perturbed by the presence of corrupt practices thriving in all nooks and crannies of the public machinery.

Not only is corruption rampant in India, it’s also remarkably visible and lacking in subtlety. In fact, for most Indians, corruption has always been a way of life. To think about it, I ended up paying a bribe no less than four times last week alone, and had to disperse massive amounts in cash to bureaucrats and their peons a couple of years ago just to make sure that my new business registration does not get stuck indefinitely for no discernible reason. And I am hardly alone: A 2005 study by TI found that more than 62 percent of Indians had a first-hand experience of paying bribes or influence peddling to get jobs done in public offices successfully.

According to some estimates, India has lost a staggering $462 billion in illicit financial flows since gaining independence in 1947, and the economic burden of corruption in the last decade is estimated at INR 1,555 thousand crore ($250 billion).

Corruption can thus be considered a massive obstacle to India’s journey from a developing to a developed nation. It’s also clear that the average Indian is thoroughly aware and conscious of it, and regularly vents his/her anger via protests and processions. However, a lack of informed debate about corruption and its root causes leads to nothing beyond momentary attention. The possibility of addressing this monstrosity through feasible systemic reforms has been pushed into a blind spot by the media’s silence and our collective complacency.

When citizens face corruption at every step in their daily lives, it cultivates passive acceptance as a survival strategy. Instead of demanding public services as an entitlement, they look upon them as favours. In 2010, Janaagraha, a civil society organisation based in Bangalore, responded by launching ipaidabribe.com with the intent of tracking the market price of corruption. Today, the portal invites citizens to share their experiences of giving bribes, as well as anecdotes about avoiding paying bribes.

With more than 23,000 reports to date, ipaidabribe.com is among the largest repository of bribe reports worldwide, collecting data regarding the nature, number, pattern, types, locations, and frequency of actual corrupt acts and values of bribes across hundreds of cities and town in India. Thus, Janaagraha raises a public outcry but in a complete and informed manner, promoting a purposive public debate that pressures public officials to address corruption through constructive reforms. It not only helps citizens recognize, avoid, and tackle corruption in daily life, but also analyses the data to understand the taxonomy of corruption in different areas and then uses that knowledge to work with the government and bring about systemic reform directed at entrenching simpler and more transparent processes, more consistent standards of law enforcement and better vigilance and regulation.

The otherwise closed and conservative government of India now seems to be opening up to new media interventions as well, as evidenced from a statement by Arun Jha, the additional secretary for the Department of Administrative Reforms & Public Grievances, at the 33rd Skoch Governance Summit in New Delhi (Sept 2013):

“I think social media would make a radical shift in governance by enabling citizen consultation. In that way, it can result in a tectonic shift in how policies are made. So far, we have had limitations in gathering feedback from the general public. Social media can bring greater accountability and have everlasting effect on policy debates.”

Social media can thus be a strong tool to enable reforms via collaboration, participation, and empowerment, though India’s digital divide also means that the social media landscape is heavily skewed towards the urban middle class and the rich. Then again, the rapidly improving penetration of mobile phones and Internet access may change these numbers sooner than you may think.

Social media is an opportunity provided by the Internet to engender collective action towards empowering democracy and initiating constructive reform, even if it has to start from a cat video. You may tweet that if you like.

Shrey_GoyalShrey Goyal is a founder of the Sustainable Growth Initiative, a Delhi-based non-profit working to advance climate change action and equitable development. He is also the editor for MInd – the Mensa India Magazine.

A fellow of the Presidential Classroom (Washington DC) and the Australia-India Youth Dialogue, Shrey has been deemed an Ashoka Youth Venturer. He is a winner of the Youth Business Development challenge, Oxford University, and a member of the Paris-based MakeSense open project. Shrey is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur.

He has authored several publications exploring inclusive public policy, corporate citizenship, climate action, social media, and youth-led social change. He has also been published in several online and print columns and blogs, and has been listed among India’s top 100 social media influencers. Shrey is an avid reader, loves traveling, and is fond of quizzing. He blogs at shreygoyal.com, and you can follow him on twitter at @ShreyGoyal.

Originally posted at CIPE Development Blog