Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Harassment bribes and corruption

Popular stereotypes of corruption can be classified into two broad categories - administrative and harassment corruption.

Those like the 2G spectrum and mining lease allotment, and CWG procurement scams are examples of administrative corruption. In such cases, either the administrative processes themselves are tweaked or its implementation is subverted to suit preferred parties. However, the more ubiquitous form of corruption involves the harassment of citizens by government officials through demands for bribes to access public services.

Though both forms of corruption are bad, harassment corruption is more debilitiating and generates widespread inefficiencies. It is the form of corruption that citizens are likely to encounter as part of their daily lives. Unlike administrative corruption, which exists in some form or the other in all countries (for example, the manner in which the TARP bailout was administered in the US smacks of administrative corruption), harassment corruption is very rare among the developed countries.

Here is a graphic of such harassment bribes from the latest Global Corruption Barometer about the bribes paid by ordinary members of the public to at least one of nine different service providers, including customs, education, medical services and the judiciary.

As the graphic indicates, India stands at the top in harassment corruption. More than half the citizens reported to have paid bribes to access atleast one of the nine most essential public services in the past 12 months. Addressing this corruption should form the major anti-corruption priority of governments across developing countries.

If the Anna Hazare led anti-corruption movement in India is to have any impact on the lives of ordinary Indians, it needs to go beyond top-down regulatory quick-fixes like Lok Pal Bill. It needs to adopt more systemic and incentives-based approaches to lowering corruption (see this, this, and this). But these are mostly un-glamorous and incremental administrative innovations whose implementation is highly context-specific, and are not amenable to being reduced into populist slogans.


Anonymous said...


A fairly regular reader of your blog. And you have touched the issue of "harassment corruption" spot on. Just to add, while the MGNREGA and its delivery system is a top-down fix in terms of ensuring wage delivery to beneficiaries, one has heard (even now) of "organised cuts" at the Bank teller counter (when beneficiary goes to withdraw) and the Post Office (where bank accounts are still not done). This would fall into the harassment category and interestingly has continued with the logic of x% for each category of players within and without the district. Interestingly, it has now brought the PO/Bank staffers also into the ambit of interested stakeholders!

In a country like ours (or maybe this is true of most developing countries), top-down fixes work for a short-term before a "jugad" is perfected to ensure continued flows! Depressing, but also innovative?

Wonder whether you have more examples of systemic/incentive-based approaches to choking this flow, in Indian contexts.

Anonymous said...

it is obvious to tag corruption as social evil.but it is unfortunate that people clssify corruption as royal and crude as well. the curde is more blatant with ' going along with the system. the royal is more dangerous like win- win situation.it is no un common that the beauracrats, especially collector , preach anti corruption and do exactly opposite. how many of them are true to their values.
they use government servants at home, use government vehicles at home of subordinates, provisions from PDS, and what not.
so it is easy to say than practice