'I Paid a Bribe' may be a model for anti-corruption

The Indian website 'I Paid a Bribe' asks people to post their encounters with corrupt officials. Now reformers in other countries are following its lead.

AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool, File
A man shouts slogans as he sits next to a coffin during a protest against corruption in Mumbai, India. The discontent fueled by India's vociferous media and a blossoming sense of empowerment among the middle class has burst into the open after a series of galling corruption scandals late last year. Thousands have taken to the streets, the courts are pursuing rare high-level prosecutions and the government is scrambling to enact a tougher anti-corruption law.

India's innovative "I Paid a Bribe" website – which puts a spotlight on government corruption – may become a model for rooting out corruption around the world.

Co-founder Ramesh Ramanathan told The Hindu news site that he had received requests from seven countries to start similar sites for them.

"I Paid a Bribe," begun last August, invites people to post anonymous reports on instances in which they have had to bribe an official. They can also share ways that they have been able to avoid paying a bribe.

"Bribery is routinely expected in interactions with government officials – to register your house, to get your driving license, domestic water connection, even a death certificate," Swati Ramanathan, the other co-founder, told the BBC. "We said, 'It's not enough to moralize, we need to find out what exactly is this corruption? What's the size of it?'"

The site has recorded more than 10,000 incidences of bribery.

Some results are already being seen. In the Indian state of Karnataka, transportation department officials have responded to complaints on the website.

The driving test for a driver's license now has been automated. Applicants wheel their way around a track with embedded electronic sensors that record their actions, rather than a human test giver. Applications also are received online. Between them, the changes remove two opportunities for an official to ask for a bribe.

The website is funded by the couple's nonprofit group Janaagraha. The stated aim of the Bangladore-based organization is to work with citizens and the government to improve the quality of life in Indian cities and towns.

"I had two tins of top quality saffron and the customs officer took one (stole in broad daylight) and put it in a hidden drawer. Then without checking anything else told me to go," says one poster on "I Paid a Bribe" June 21 under the title "Greedy Customs Officer."

"I Paid a Bribe" has already been copied in China by a number of sites, including "I Made a Bribe" and www.522phone.com, reports Reuters news agency. Although the Chinese government is officially in favor of anti-corruption efforts, it's not clear whether the authoritarian regime will allow such citizen-led efforts to go forward. Both "I Made a Bribe" and "522phone.com" could not be accessed from a computer in Boston June 23.

In Transparency International's 2010 survey of perceived corruption, India ranked 87th among 178 nations on the list and China ranked 78th. Denmark, New Zealand, and Singapore were listed as the least-corrupt countries. The United States ranked 22nd.

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