The I Paid A Bribe website is going to become more popular than the Voice of the People Show when it was chaired by C. N. Sharma. While the majority of the population still does not have access to the Internet, there have been a surprisingly fair number of persons who have shared their experiences about having to pay a bribe.
The problems with Internet access is going to change within a year when the rates for Internet falls dramatically with the introduction of the government’s fiber optic cable. When this happens, the I Paid a Bribe website is going to have far more hits than it can handle. And with this will come even more reports of the extortion of bribes.
There are many who were skeptical about the purpose of a website which allows you to share your experience of either having to pay a bribe, being approached for a bribe or not paying a bribe. Some people asked what good will such sharing of information be if the guilty could not be identified. Many also questioned the usefulness of this service and what benefit it would bring if all that is allowed was for people to share their experience.
As it turns out the website is providing a more than useful function. For one, it empowers citizens to come forward and admit that they paid a bribe. There is no shame involved. Nor is there any penalty to be paid.
The person who has had to grease public authorities and officials does not have to fear identification. His or her identity remains secretive and therefore there is no fear of being victimized.
This empowerment will in the long term allow for more persons to resist having to pay bribes and to have greater confidence to come forward and expose those who demand bribes.
The authorities now have a great deal of information about what citizens have to endure at the hands of public officials. Some of the stories related so far are chilling.
Based on the reports made so far, most of the bribes were allegedly paid to the police. In fact in excess of eight million dollars has allegedly exchanged hands in the just over sixty cases reported so far.
If you extrapolate this number over a larger set of reports, it gives you an idea of the volume of bribes that are paid each year in Guyana and which are agencies in which the parties who receive these bribes work.
What this extrapolation will demonstrate is that bribes paid by ordinary citizens are a multi- billion dollar industry each year. Thus, while a great deal of hype is made- and justifiably so- about the big bribes believed to be paid by contractors to public officials, collectively those big bribes are surpassed by the aggregate of bribes paid by ordinary citizens to those who are supposed to be providing routine public services.
As expected, so far leading the race by a wide margin is the Guyana Police Force. In fact the I Paid a Bribe website is dominated by allegations of bribes paid to the police.
Many months ago when this column noted that the Guyana Police Force was perceived as the most corrupt institution in the country, there was a strong reaction. In fact, corrupt ranks were told to immediately surrender their badges since corrupt behavior would not be tolerated.
It is not clear just how many ranks have surrendered their badges but judging from the reports of the I Paid a Bribe website, there remains serious concerns about the operations, particularly of those in the traffic department.
This brings us to usefulness of the website to the government. Apart from identifying the horrifying experiences that the public has to endure at the hands of public agencies, it gives to public administrators an idea of where they need to concentrate their efforts and possibly what steps need to be taken.
But does the government really need this analysis to determine where action needs to be directed? It has long been public knowledge that in certain government departments, corruption is rife.
But now that the government is gaining a greater insight into the gravity of the problem, it is left to be seen what action will be taken. Or whether like the once popular Voice of the People Show, the I Paid a Bribe will be left to become a mere way of allowing the public to let off steam.
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