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Websites shine light on petty bribery worldwide

The cost of claiming a legitimate income tax refund in Hyderabad, India? Rs 10,000.

business Updated: Mar 07, 2012 20:38 IST

The cost of claiming a legitimate income tax refund in Hyderabad, India? Rs 10,000.

The going rate to get a child who has passed the entrance requirements into high school in Nairobi, Kenya? 20,000 shillings.

The expense of obtaining a driver’s license after having passed the test in Karachi, Pakistan? Rs 3,000.

Such is the price of what Swati Ramanathan calls “retail corruption,” the sort of nickel-and-dime bribery, as opposed to large-scale graft, that infects everyday life in so many parts of the world.

Ramanathan and her husband, Ramesh, along with Sridar Iyengar, set out to change all that in August 2010 when they started ipaidabribe.com, a site that collects anonymous reports of bribes paid, bribes requested but not paid and requests that were expected but not forthcoming.

About 80% of the more than 400,000 reports to the site tell stories like the ones above of officials seeking illicit payments to provide routine services or process paperwork and forms.

“I was asked to pay a bribe to get a birth certificate for my daughter,” someone in Bangalore wrote in to the Website on February 29, recording payment of a R120 bribe in Bangalore.

Now, similar sites are spreading like kudzu around the globe, vexing petty bureaucrats the world over. Ramanathan said NGOs and government agencies from at least 17 countries had contacted Janaagraha, the non-profit organisation in Bangalore that operates I Paid a Bribe, to ask about obtaining the source code and setting up a site of their own.

Antony Ragui, for example, started an ipaidabribe site in December. The site has recorded about 470 bribery reports. The bribes are as varied as payments to make traffic infractions vanish from records and payments for admission to schools and for passports and identification documents.

Last year, the Kingdom of Bhutan’s anti-corruption commission created an online form to allow the anonymous reporting of corruption, and a similar site was created in Pakistan, ipaidbribe, which estimates that the country’s economy has lost some Rs 8.5 trillion, or about $94 billion, over the last four years to corruption and tax evasion.

“We’re working to create a coalition of I Paid a Bribe groups that would meet annually and share experiences,” said Ramanathan.

Ben Elers, programme director, Transparency International, a NGO, said social media had given people powerful new tools to fight endemic corruption.

The New York Times