Jami E McElrea
India is one of the fastest growing economies, yet corruption is rampant. More than 50% of Indians have bribed government officials in 2019. In 2010 transparency international ranked India 87th out of 178 countries. Corruption has a huge economic and social cost in India and has created a system of mistrust between the citizens and the government. Moreover, widespread petty corruption means individuals will feel powerless to fight it, and so then they become used to bad services and paying bribes to receive them. Citizens within India have become increasingly frustrated by the corruption elected officials and bureaucrats engage in. This exasperation with the system has led to ordinary citizens leveraging their voices through Ipaidabribe.com, an innovative social media outlet that provides direct action tools to diminish corruption within the county. The internet has become a key rallying point for mass movements against corruption as it gives citizens a voice to share their experiences where previously they did not have the opportunity, and to use their experiences to contribute to policy advocacy against corruption. IPAB (I paid a bribe), a social movement in India, is one of those resistant actions that were facilitated by the Internet and which advocated for procedural reform to mitigate corruption and to educate the public. The movement has found success through the effective use alternative media, its organizational structure, and its ability to influence public policy.
The original IPAB website was founded by the Janaagraha Center for Citizenship and Democracy, a nonprofit based in Bangalore. The website asks citizens to anonymously report incidents of bribe giving, as well as amounts of money transferred. The movement focuses on everyday forms of petty crimes or retail corruption; for example, the bribes paid to obtain birth certificates or driver’s licenses. The site also gives citizens the opportunity to report times where they refused to pay bribes, or when they came across honest officials who did not ask for them. The Janaagraha Centre then makes policy recommendations that are grounded in the advice and experiences of Indian citizens. Since its creation, the site has had over 15 million visitors.
IPAB takes a two-pronged approach by advocating for procedural reform that lowers corruption and educates the public. IPAB recommends changes for how public services are delivered to reduce corruption. They also educate citizens on their legal entitlement to public services as well as how to avoid and resist bribes. Their mission is not to target specific politicians or bureaucrats, but rather to amplify the voices of citizens to highlight systematic patterns of corruption and to improve governance. IPAB’s focus on public education is highlighted by the sections of the website that inform the public on anti-corruption measures. In the ask Raghu section, there is a Q and A portion where users seek advice from a former senior level civil servant. There has been high engagement with 1050 questions answered, which is indicative of the success of the website and the movement. The website provides updated news related to anti-corruption efforts, as well as a how-to section that explains legal facts and documents on more mundane but practical matters encountered by citizens. The more educated citizens are on their rights, and how to navigate governmental bureaucracies, the less likely they are to fall prey to corruption.
In terms of the productivity of the movement, IPAB’s use of alternative media has effectively contributed to the strength of the social movement. The IPAB website is not only exposing corruption but providing in depth analysis for how to improve the system and to reduce corruption. While the Indian government is sympathetic to anti-corruption measures, it is with the help of a nongovernmental organization such as IPAB amplifying the voices of citizens, that has been effective in reducing corruption. The content created and posted on the IPAB’s site is responsive to the communities it serves, in this case Indian citizens, by providing user friendly, informative, and detailed content on anti-corruption efforts.
The organization structure of IPAB is also key to its success as a social movement. Mainstream media institutions often aim to maximize profit or use advertising for its main source of revenue in a way that “virtually always structured in accord with and to help reinforce society’s defining hierarchical social relationships and is generally controlled by and controlling of other major social institutions, particularly corporations”. Therefore, if an organization is committed to altering society and pushing for positive change, it cannot hold the same incentive structure as the mainstream media. IPAB circumvents these issues of hypocrisy since it is a nonprofit. While it does pay its employees to ensure high quality deliverables, the goal of the organization is to eliminate unethical transactions. Its decision making is not influenced by profit incentives as that would be antithetical to its goal. IPAB has a coherent organizational structure as the Janaagraha organization employs a full-time staff for web maintenance, content creation verification, policy advocacy and overall strategy direction. The centralized structure of the organization provides strong foundational support for the anti-corruption campaigns through the online bribe reporting platform. With the platform, the campaign utilizes its highly decentralized citizen base for its reporting mechanism which creates a stronger. The success of this movement in India has earned international acclaim, and the various versions have diffused to 17 other countries including Bhutan, Pakistan, and Kenya. IPAB is also endorsed by high level government officials. The practical organization structure of IPAB is integral to its accomplishments as a social movement.
In addition, key to IPAB being a successful social movement is its ability to advocate for actual solutions and to create systematic change. The Janaagraha Centre has successfully worked closely with the government to change administrative processes to mitigate corruption. For example, IPAB provided a 40-page report to the transport department that summarizes patterns of bribery connected to transport and provides corresponding recommendations. The report thoroughly tracks administrative processes, fees of procedures, and the legal requirements of obtaining a permit of service. Grounded in citizen input, it also alerts readers of zones in the process which are more prone to graft. IPAB not only alerts the government of instances of bribery but recommends concrete measures specific to departments to reduce bribe taking. Specifically, to the department of Transport, IPAB recommended replacing manual driving tests with simulator tests and requiring departments to wear identity badges. They also recommended the medium-term reform to remove the region-specific nature of transport offices, which introduces competition to improve services. Another example of IPAB’s success is when it changed processes in land registration to reduce corruption. Traditionally citizens had to register the sale and purchase of land and obtain approval from the land registration office within the jurisdiction where the parcel is located. Reports to the IPAB website indicate that bribery is higher on the periphery of the city rather than the center. This finding prompted the Janaagraha Centre to advocate for citizens to be able to register at any regional office, not just the one corresponding to their land parcel. After several months of advocacy directed at the department of stamps and registration, they were successful. The ability for IPAB to achieve its goals and provide policy solutions for corruption illustrates its effectiveness as a movement.
IPAB is a movement that advocates for procedural reform to mitigate corruption and enhance public education. It has found success through its correct use of alternative media, its strong organizational structure, and its ability to influence public policy. The utilization of citizen voices through Ipaidabribe.com, is innovative in battling corruption, which otherwise can devastate social and economic communities. The success of IPAB’s advocacy serves as an example of how alternative media can be used to make positive change.
Jami McElrea(@bulletofthought) is a 3rd year Public Affairs and Policy Management student specializing in Strategic public opinion at Carleton University. She is Vice-president of communications for Arthur Kroeger College Educational Society. She currently is working as a student at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and in the summer of 2020, she worked as a junior policy officer at the National Research Council of Canada. She also writes articles on various policy issues at the Kroeger Policy Review.