9th August 2012
What should you do when you are asked for a bribe?
This is a question that keeps coming up. I've addressed it earlier but can't readily find a reference. So, in response to Harsh Vora's recent question (below), let me raise the key issues.
I just moved to India and am very concerned about an ethical dilemma I'm facing almost every week. How does one manage the problem of bribes he has to pay to the government employees for almost every task? I know you are in Australia, but you've lived in India. How did you deal with this problem when you were here?
I recently had to register my vehicle with RTO and the officer wouldn't pass the papers forward without charging a "commission" of Rs. 200. While he didn't ask for the bribe directly, it's known that Rs. 200 is the market price for registration. I was told by the agent that if I don't pay Rs. 200, I would be forced to travel long distances multiple times (and that the officer wouldn't listen to me easily). That's exactly what I did. The officer was also very rude to me.
I talked about this to my friends and they are discouraging me from adopting such honest behaviour in India. They said that if I must settle in India, I will have to learn to pay bribes (be it Rs. 50 or Rs. 200) , else nothing would get accomplished.
While this is obvious, how does one get around it? How did you get around it? Is it just okay to pay Rs. 200 (without receipt) and get things done quickly? While the answer (in negative) may be obvious to an outsider, it is a difficult undertaking in India. I'm really worried. Please opine!
First, how did I deal with corruption while I was in India? Since I was in the IAS, I merely had to introduce myself in order to get VIP treatment everywhere in India.
On the other hand, I had the power to trap and catch corrupt people, and to devise systems to eliminate corruption in the roles I held (e.g. Deputy Commissioner) – within the constraints of socialist policies implemented in India. I ensured the fear of God in the heads of those who worked under me. For doing such things I was not very popular with some of my staff, let's just say that. But I was often a "hero" in the eyes of most residents of my districts. And yes, I was dumped like a hot potato by Assam's Chief Minister Hiteswar Saikia when I refused to do his bidding and give a major cement contract to the company that he wanted me to.
But you don't have this power, nor the seniority in the system to demand honesty. Further, good officers who block corruption are rare, and "retail" corruption has become the norm in most government offices in India.
So what are you to do?
First, let me commend you on the position you've taken. You did not pay the bribe. That's the basic expectation of an FTI member. As you are aware, you've signed FTI's Code of Conduct by joining FTI.
If even FTI members start paying bribes, we will have little strength left to fight corruption.
When Indian soldiers fight the enemy on the border, they give up their life itself in battling the enemy. Fighting corruption only involves inconvenience. FTI members should at least fight the enemy that lives within India. Giving up without a fight will amount to abject failure.
Even if we pay Rs.200 in bribes, it will support the politicians (through bribe-taking officers) who are destroying India. Every rupee in bribe strengthens India's enemies and weakens our resolve and capacity to fight the enemy.
4.2.1 Integrity. FTI members commit to comply with the highest standards of personal integrity.
4.2.1a They (FTI members) commit to acting honestly and reasonably, with due consideration of consequences. This includes strict honesty in public dealings, and rules out any corrupt activities or illegal actions such as tax evasion (e.g. dealing with black money). The latter would include not providing (or having provided) active support to political parties which collect and use black money. Such active support would include things like directly dealing with election campaigns of such parties.
4.2.2 Compliance with the laws of India. Members of FTI commit to adhering to the Constitution of India in all its detail, despite differences of opinion with some of the provisions of the Constitution, and upholding the laws of India at all times. FTI members would be able to break a particular law, should they choose to do so, but only by making the relevant authorities fully aware of their deliberate non-compliance with the law. No law of India will be broken in secret by any FTI member. Breaking the law to lodge a protest with the authorities is a kind of civil disobedience and would need authorisation by FTI. Members of FTI could face immediate expelled for breaking any law of the land.
We know that giving a bribe is a criminal act under Indian law. FTI members are SWORN to fight corruption. They must fight those who demand bribes. They must resist the enemy.
What can you do?
Of course resisting is hard. Most senior IAS officers (who were given "lucrative roles") told me that one must be "practical". I don't believe in being practical with my principles. If a soldier can DIE for India, why will I bend my spine before an INDIAN enemy?
So what can you do?
1. Send the clear (very politely, though!) message that you are from the Freedom Team of India with an all-India reach and will make note of those who demand bribes.
2. Publish FULL details of the person/s who asking for bribes. I'm happy to publish FULL DETAILS of such criminals on this blog.
3. Send the details of the criminal request to the person's boss, to the relevant DC, to the relevant Secretary to the government. There are at least a few officers in India who (even today) will fight on your side. You need to find out such a corruption-fighter within the civil service and approach the person.
Note that you will suffer all kinds of issues, particularly delays and nuisance during this process, but the work will ultimately get done.
One example where retail corruption occurs is in traffic offences. When my brother (in Gurgaon) incurs traffic offences he always pays them. The police are shocked when he demands to pay the official fine. He can save money by paying a bribe, but he prefers to ensure that the policeman DOESN'T get a paisa. Let it go the exchequer.
Nitpicking even on small bribes is crucial, particularly for FTI members. It is through such nitpicking and leading by example that FTI members will build their reputation. By shoving such "small" things under the carpet we'll become weak, spineless. We'll lose the fire in our belly. We will become ordinary "educated" Indians.
There is a simple rule. Ask what Vivekananda would have done. Ask what Gandhi would have done. Then do it.
Don't be angry with the person who asks for bribes. We are not here to fight each corrupt person. We are here to change the system itself. But politely explain to them that you are in the business of reforming India, and suggest that you are not against the person, but against his action which is harmful to India.
You are not alone. Connect with others.
The IAC has been fighting against corruption at all levels. It will be worthwhile joining such local organisations to get support. FTI is currently a very small group, but joining a mass-based organisation (e.g. Ramdev's) – and using their name – can also help. Or join 5th Pillar, and give a ZERO RUPEE note to signal your opposition to bribes.
WHAT IF YOU COME UNDER DURESS?
Note that I'm not asking you to sacrifice your life (or even time – excessively).
If you are left with no alternative but to pay, or believe it will be safer if you pay, then do it, but keep record (e.g. voice recording). Then let the world know. Make a scrupulous list of bribes you've been forced to pay, and by whom.
That's the least we can do – to ensure we disclose the corruption we have faced.
It is no crime to pay a bribe under duress. You are NOT the responsible party – you've been forced.
However, in most cases, you'll have to be a leader. FTI members are NOT followers. We are not sheep. We are not "educated" slaves. We are self-respecting citizens.
Would anyone demand a bribe from Anna Hazare? The same should hold of you.
If you merely follow others ("do in Rome as Romans do") then you are finished. You will instantly lose your spine. You'll become a Manmohan Singh.
We have to DEMAND the kind of India we want. We must not give in to the "system".
We must CHANGE the system.