The Guardian - In 2010 Shubham Khandelwal in Chennai was trying to get himself and his father a new set of ID cards from the local government agency. Standing between him and his identification, however, was a corrupt official demanding a bribe of 2,000 rupees (£20). Shubham refused for three days but finally gave in. This type of everyday corruption is common across India: from a man and wife reporting that they were forced to bribe officials 3,000 rupees to get their marriage finalised last month in Bangalore, to a student in Chennai this month being asked to pay 75,000 rupees to be admitted into an engineering college.
All of these people found an outlet for their frustration by telling their stories on I Paid a Bribe, and they are not alone: tens of thousands of Indian citizens have used this crowdsourcing platform. Their stories add a touch of humanity to what economists and development professionals have known for decades: corruption, even on a small scale, is a major drag on economic and societal growth.
While flashy kleptocrats like Teodoro Obiang, son of the Equatorial Guinea president, tend to catch the media attention, small-time corrupt officials can be equally injurious to a country’s development efforts. Petty corruption is difficult to detect, hard to police, and even harder to eradicate once a culture of bribery has taken hold.
The big challenge, however, is how to transform this body of stories into real change. Telling other citizens which government agencies are more corrupt than others is useful, but not the same as addressing the underlying problems.
The responsibility for improving these tools lies with both the government and the tech providers. To improve the effectiveness of crowdsourced anticorruption, governments need to start recognising the value of these platforms and integrate them into the criminal justice system. The platforms need to encourage the entry of more useful data. And the public needs to be reassured that telling their stories will have some impact.
Not in my Country, a project fighting corruption at universities in Kenya and Uganda makes deliberate efforts to follow up the stories it collects. Brave citizens are asked to submit highly detailed evidence of of both ‘quiet’ and ‘hard’ corruption. For instance, if a lecturer at a Kenyan university were to demand sex in exchange for academic favours, and if the student were willing to gather evidence, Not in my Country promises to safely guide their complaint through the legal process. While anonymous reports would still be permitted, executive director Roey Rosenblith, believes corruption can best be fought by naming names. The project has highlighted the importance ofprotecting whistleblowers, and Rosenblith says that they are close to bringing their first legal action.
Another promising effort, this time supported by the government itself, is the Citizen Feedback Model in Pakistan. This system uses a simple but effectivemethod of enhancing government accountability. Whenever a citizen deals with a government agency, they receive a follow-up robocall asking if they experienced any corruption during their visit. With tens of thousands of robocalls being made each day, the government is able to collect incredibly targeted information about where corruption still lies. This type of approach could be easily adapted to following up on crowdsourced reports of corruption.
In Indonesia, the government established an internet portal that citizens can visit to report government misconduct. Reports made to the platform, Lapor, are managed by a special presidential monitoring unit, whose job is to make sure that whatever agency is responsible for the complaint hears it and reacts to it. On Lapor’s website you can see how this plays out in realtime, with citizens and government officials exchanging messages on forums. One example is a village of hundreds of people that has been without electricity for a lengthy period, perhaps because of a failure to pay bribes, has now been promised electricity within the 2015/2016 fiscal year. “Alhamdulillah” (“thank God”) says one villager.
Thanks to I Paid a Bribe’s efforts to send his complaint to responsible authorities, Khandelwal’s 2010 report of an official demanding a bribe for his government ID card finally bore fruit. In a 2013 letter, the Indian government confirmed to I Paid a Bribe and Khandelwal that the official in question had been removed from his position and that disciplinary action was being taken.
This is exactly the result that citizens desire when they report corruption on any of these crowdsourcing platforms. Corruption fighters – be they in the government or outside – must be ready to translate a complaint into effective action.