The cost of claiming a legitimate income tax refund in Hyderabad, India? 10,000 rupees.
The going rate to get a child who has already 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? 3,000 rupees.
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.
Ms. 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 percent of the more than 400,000 reports to the site tell stories like the ones above of officials and bureaucrats 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, India, wrote in to the Web site on Feb. 29, recording payment of a 120-rupee bribe in Bangalore. “The guy in charge called it ‘fees’ ” — except there are no fees charged for birth certificates, Ms. Ramanathan said.
Now, similar sites are spreading like kudzu around the globe, vexing petty bureaucrats the world over. Ms. Ramanathan said nongovernmental organizations and government agencies from at least 17 countries had contacted Janaagraha, the nonprofit organization in Bangalore that operates I Paid a Bribe, to ask about obtaining the source code and setting up a site of their own.
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 8.5 trillion rupees, or about $94 billion, over the last four years to corruption, tax evasion and weak governance.
“We’re working to create a coalition of I Paid a Bribe groups that would perhaps meet annually and share experiences,” Ms. Ramanathan said.
Ben Elers, program director for Transparency International, a nongovernmental organization, said social media had given the average person powerful new tools to fight endemic corruption. “In the past, we tended to view corruption as this huge, monolithic problem that ordinary people couldn’t do anything about,” Mr. Elers said. “Now, people have new tools to identify it and demand change.”
Since no names are given on the sites, in part to avoid potential issues of libel and defamation, it is impossible to verify the reports, but Mr. Elers and others experienced in exposing corruption say many of them ring true.
They are threatening enough that when a rash of similar sites popped up in China last summer, the government stamped them out within a couple of weeks, contending they had failed to register with the authorities.
They are, however, only a reporting mechanism. “In their own right, they don’t change anything,” Mr. Elers said. “The critical thing is that mechanisms are developed to turn this online activity into offline change in the real world.”
Antony Ragui is hoping that happens in Kenya, where he started an ipaidabribe site in December. The site has gotten about thousands of hits since then and 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.
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