Comment Pieces

Out-of-the-box way to fight petty corruption

Posted on February 07, 2014

One pays a Rs 500 bribe and comes away silently. One pays Rs 1000 and comes away with a murmur. One pays Rs 10,000 and we grumble a little and go our own way. What is the threshold level at which we say that enough is enough and complain to the authorities and fight the system?

How do we make citizens complain and report on bribes? Those who complain are rare, and the complaints that are received by various agencies and organisations are only the tip of the huge and massive iceberg.

Finally, it all boils down to this. There is no great incentive to report a bribe, other than the fact that one can try to penalise the person who received the bribe. Now, with the new law, it is going to be much more difficult for people to report on bribes as bribe- giving is also being criminalised.

If we look at why people do not complain, we find three reasons. One, people who pay paltry sums think that it is no use complaining as the amount is too meagre. Secondly, they think that nothing much will come out of it as there have been very few instances of action being taken on petty corruption and thirdly, they feel that there is hardly any incentive while the disincentives are high. Disincentives could range from vindictive action by government officials to physical threats and assaults or the mere time spent in following up on the case.

Perhaps it is time to think out of the box. Men and women are rational economic beings, and if perhaps the incentives are high enough they would report on the bribe paid. Not sure, but one could give it a try. For example we could push for anti-corruption legislation which mandates that if a person reports on a bribe paid and is able to prove the same, the government could be made liable to pay 20 times the amount received as bribe by the government employee. It is upto the government to recover it from the employee or pay from its own pocket.

So if one were to pay a bribe of Rs one lakh, it certainly makes sense to report on the bribe if one were to get Rs twenty lakhs in return. Maybe enterprising citizens would also go around trying to trap government officials into receiving bribes and trying to recover the prize money from the government.

This would be a game-changer. Governments are sure to spend more time, effort and money on increasing transparency and perhaps will go the extra mile to fight corruption. Maybe they would check with the citizen at the end of every transaction if he had paid a bribe.

Unless the government is faced with such 'disproportionate disincentives' things are not likely to change.

- Venkatesh K