Coffee house rants on corruption are predictable these days. Philosophers say that corruption is inevitable, unavoidable and always existed. They argue that cleansing our system of it will require a wholesale change in attitudes and values. They then conclude that nothing can be done if the top is corrupt and corruption is systematic. There are those that argue for corruption, even going to the extent of saying that nothing should be done about it. They say that the concept of corruption is vague and culturally determined, that it is a form of gift consistent with local social mores. They assert that corruption is not harmful and given our dysfunctional service delivery system, it is the grease that moves the economic engine. Finally, the optimists assure us—don’t worry; with free markets, corruption will eventually fade away.
Even as these debates rage, there are individuals, stubbornly intolerant to corruption, who are combating it in their daily lives. They have successfully outsmarted, out-argued or out-waited the corrupt. Having overcome the fear factor, they have refused to be misled or confused, done their homework and been very firm and patient in their resolve. They have often achieved success keeping their sense of humour intact, overcoming the scepticism of those that surround them. In the “I didn’t pay a bribe” section of ipaidabribe.com, 1,250 individuals have posted their experiences of successfully resisting corruption. We gleaned from their successful experiences the 10 commandments against corruption, which can inspire others.
Confident approach: Most people who beat the corrupt, exude confidence. They avoid corruption simply by looking and behaving confidently. They are polite, but equally firm and assertive. They often ask for officers and address them by their names, without showing unnecessary respect.
Avoiding agents: They often undertake transactions themselves, avoiding touts, agents and middlemen. They do their homework before they approach a government office, scouring websites, reading through FAQs, citizens’ charters and regulations to understand their entitlements.
Written acknowledgement: They always obtain written acknowledgment for any applications or papers they submit. They insist on receipts for all payments and demand acknowledgement for documents/forms submitted.
Seek reasons: They do not accept verbal rejections of applications and demand in writing to know the reasons, in case the documents they submit are rejected. If any government official speaks of a procedure, they ask him to show the government rule under which he is dealing with any application that they make. They are smart enough to understand that if they are asked to bring some additional papers and then an official offers to do their work without these papers for a bribe, then it is conclusive proof that such papers are unnecessary.
The RTI weapon: When officers refuse to provide them with details, they file applications under the Right to Information Act (RTI) to ascertain what the rules are. They also use the RTI Act to find out whether such papers have been demanded from other similarly placed applicants. They note the details of officers who refuse to provide information.
Clear and loud refusal: When asked for bribes, they refuse to bribe, speaking openly and clearly so that people around can hear. They talk about going to senior officials of the department, including the vigilance authorities in case their work is not done. They mention the names of senior officials.
Filing complaints: They file complaints concerning demands for bribes, unnecessary delays or rudeness to vigilance, public grievance cells and senior officials, regardless of whether these may fall on deaf ears. They keep complaining till their work gets done.
Collecting proof: They build evidence by recording conversations on their mobile phones, taking photographs of the corrupt and attaching these to their complaints.
Trying “Gandhigiri”: This has been particularly successful in collective action, such as obtaining property records from municipal corporations. Some corrupt people can be shamed. A tug at the heartstrings of the corrupt can also work. Youngsters have got away when they ask an older person in the government who demands bribes, whether they would tolerate the same treatment if it were meted out to their daughters or sons.
Patience pays: For instance, when an official is consistently unavailable in office, leaving a letter that explains that you came to visit the official at the time and date specified but that as he was not available, you will return on another day at a specific time will send the message he cannot trifle with you.
Essentially, such steps are successful because they disrupt the normal behaviour pattern that the corrupt expect from citizens. When citizens go in groups, speak confidently but bluntly and are armed with good knowledge of the law, they make the bribe-taker feel ill at ease. Most people who engage in petty corruption are cowards and often back off; they do not want to tangle with knowledgeable people who control the conversation.
While there are no short cuts, the 10 commandments of saying “no”, underscore that much of the cure to corruption, lies within us. Yes, these will not be sufficient to tackle big-time scams, but small steps can lead to big victories too.
Illustration by Shyamal Banerjee/Mint
T.R. Raghunandan is programme coordinator, Ipaidabribe.com.
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