Paying Zero for Public Services
January 27, 2010 12:31 PM   Subscribe

Protesting corruption with the zero-rupee note. Indian NGO 5th Pillar has a come up with a unique project to help India's poor fight against institutionalized bribery.
posted by shakespeherian (21 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
It's a neat idea, and an eye-catching stunt. But 5th Pillar is actually being a little more proactive about helping the poor than just handing out monopoly money.
In 2005 the Right to Information Act was passed as a way of holding government departments, agencies and officials accountable. Citing the law, anyone can access government records within 30 days of their request. Yet the majority of the population have no idea how to use it in their everyday lives nor do they have access to the legal resources.

Last month 5th Pillar, which has 1,200 members and 6,000 online subscribers worldwide, opened drop-in centres staffed by volunteers able to help people to leverage the Act by drafting petitions and delivering them to the relevant government department.

“We want to empower people to fight for their rights,” Mr Anand said. “One lady had been waiting a year for her land title and was told she would only receive it if she paid a 7,500-rupee ‘fee’. She went back to the office with one of our volunteers and got the document in 30 minutes without paying anything.”

The reason the zero-rupee bills work isn't because they remind officials to be honorable. It's because the money is backed by an organization which will help people fight for their rights to public services without graft.
posted by zarq at 12:45 PM on January 27, 2010 [8 favorites]

Seems unfortunately like a good way to get beaten up by thugs.
posted by melissam at 12:48 PM on January 27, 2010

Sounds familiar. Is this the founder talking his idea at a TED conference?
posted by scottatdrake at 12:48 PM on January 27, 2010

The solution to this is simple: Pay public officials more -- much more.
posted by effugas at 12:50 PM on January 27, 2010

How much do they cost?

To make, I mean.
posted by Balisong at 12:54 PM on January 27, 2010

Pay public officials more -- much more.

As a Federal Employee, let me just say, "AMEN!"

Now, why don't you slip me a couple of bucks and we'll see about turning some of these code violations into "irregularities"

Kidding. Seriously, please don't fire me Mr. Obama, sir.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:57 PM on January 27, 2010

An engineer from Pakistan I occasionally work with told us about his duties as the head of a small public works department in his home country. The most astounding was this: Once a month, he'd collect cash from his employees amounting to x% of their monthly salaries, take the train to Lahore, deliver it to his boss and collect their monthly paychecks. If he didn't, no one got paid.
posted by electroboy at 1:00 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

The solution to this is simple: Pay public officials more -- much more.

I'm not sure that is actually the problem in these cases, though. The officials demanding bribes are often earning more -- much more -- than the people they are demanding bribes from.
posted by Jugwine at 1:12 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

After spending some time in a few of the more corrupt areas of the world, I've stopped complaining about the TSA.
posted by aramaic at 1:15 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm entirely in favor of paying public officials more, but I think it's clear that having an adequate amount of money does not make people less likely to be greedy or corrupt. There seems to be substantial evidence to the contrary, in fact.
posted by GodricVT at 1:17 PM on January 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

And the difference between a zero-rupee note and a one-rupee note* is approximately 2c...they could always cut down on printing & distribution costs that way.

Which reminds me: once I was having all kinds of bureaucratic hassle getting my visa extended in India, in a town where it was supposed to be relatively problem-free.

Only afterwards did I realise that a pristine one-rupee note that I'd been saving inside my passport as a souvenir had gone missing. The office-wallahs had presumably thought it was a bribe, and - insulted by a cashed up westerner offering them the smallest possible note in circulation - probably made me run an extra gauntlet of rubber-stampery & triplicate-formery, as punishment for my perceived tightwaddishness.

* mostly replaced by coins now, but there are still some floating around.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:24 PM on January 27, 2010 [7 favorites]

A very interesting story (and idea); thanks for the post.
posted by languagehat at 2:49 PM on January 27, 2010

I'm ignorant about the real intricacies/efficacy of this solution, but it's always great to read about new solutions to age-old problems. The anecdotal evidence suggests that the avoidance of shame - a huge motivator in most cultures - might trump quotidian greed in some bribery cases. Nice!
posted by kozad at 3:43 PM on January 27, 2010

In places where it takes a bribe to get something done, every single time, it seems like it'd be easy to fight corruption. Just have the police impersonate normal people, trying to get normal things done. The first time anyone asks for a bribe, arrest them. Maybe catch the whole thing on tape so you remove the possibility of the police themselves being corrupt.
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:52 PM on January 27, 2010

Pay public officials more -- much more.

In most of the corrupt countries I've visited, public officials were paid much better than the average citizen, and the level of corruption seemed to increase with the pay and prestige bestowed upon the public official. So I don't know why this would work in and of itself.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 5:07 PM on January 27, 2010

remove the possibility of the police themselves being corrupt.

Unfortunately, the police - who are always corrupt, as a rule - would extort bribes from the bureaucrat, and either pay off or intimidate the videotaping guys to lose or falsify the evidence.

If you try to set up a system to audit the video people, then that just adds another layer of authority to corrupt. It really is endless, once corruption is endemic.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:39 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seems unfortunately like a good way to get beaten up by thugs.
posted by melissam at 12:48 PM on January 27

The Thuggee?
posted by 445supermag at 7:05 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

And institutions like World Bank (WB) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) are part of the corruption ... they keep giving money to governments (read: bureaucrats) on loan, which they know the bureaucrats are largely pocketing. Who has to pay for such loans? The people of that country ... most developing countries spend large portions of their budget on debt-servicing from banks like the World Bank. Like all other banks, the World Bank and its 'bankers' are incented to keep those debt-servicing payments coming in, while continuing programs and expanding them. So, money keeps going to those governments that is putting bad money after worse. Meanwhile, the World Bank projects on the ground often have poor oversight and there is no accountability for the money not being spent appropriately; any critical independent reports are suppressed. The money goes into pocket and overseas bank accounts. The WB/ADB shrug their shoulders: it's not their fault, the officers of that country are so corrupt ... but they'll keep lending, because their debt keeps getting serviced.

And then they throw out ridiculous ideas like zero-rupee notes. Yeah right!? That's really going to wipe out corruption in India. Petty bureaucrats are going to be so scared of zero rupee notes, that they're actually going to provide services without getting bribes.

Having f***ed up the developing world for over the last 60+ years, the World Bank is trotting out monopoly money as a panacea!? I mean, c'mon people! Don't fall for it. It's just more garbage.

And let me guess: 5th Pillar got several million dollars to reinvent re-packaged monopoly money and raised a few million more at the roadshow in Doha, with everyone oohing and aahing over their ingenuity.
posted by Azaadistani at 10:00 PM on January 27, 2010


Don't give the teabaggers any ideas, or they'll start paying their taxes with large stacks of $0 Ronnie Reagans.
posted by markkraft at 11:37 PM on January 27, 2010

they'll start paying their taxes with large stacks of $0 Ronnie Reagans.

That's fine, we'll just use the bills to pay off the private contarctors that are siphoning off most of that tax money anyway.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:34 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

It is not impossible to reduce corruption.
posted by pracowity at 11:20 PM on January 28, 2010

« Older The Apple iPad   |   Truly Inspirational Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments