Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Bribe Fighter - The Boston Globe

Bribe Fighter

The strange but true tale of a phony currency, shame, and a grass-roots movement that could go global

NEW DELHI — What good is a currency that is not even worth the paper it’s printed on?
That’s the intriguing question raised by the new “zero rupee note” now circulating in southern India. It looks just like the country’s 50 rupee bill but with some crucial differences: It is printed on just one side on plain paper, it bears a big fat “0” denomination, and it isn’t legal tender.
The notes do, however, have value to the people who carry them. They’re designed as a radical new response to the pervasive problem of petty corruption. Citizens are encouraged to hand the notes to public officials in response to the bribery demands that are almost inescapable when dealing with the government here. Bribes for access to services are so common they even have an accepted euphemism — asking for money “for tea.”
The notes, printed and distributed by a good-government organization called 5th Pillar, include the phrase that the bearer “promises to neither accept nor give a bribe.” The idea is that by handing one of these zero rupee bills to an official, a citizen can register a silent protest — and maybe even shame or scare a corrupt bureaucrat into doing his duty without demanding a bribe for it.
In one sense, the idea seems absurd — fighting a serious problem like entrenched corruption with something that looks like a prank.
But remarkably, the zero rupee note appears to work, as 5th Pillar says it has found in hundreds of cases
And in its success, the worthless bill is upending the conventional wisdom that cleaning up petty corruption is a monumental task requiring complicated and expensive solutions. Along with the success of some other simple anticorruption ideas being tried in other countries, the zero rupee note is reinforcing research widely considered to hold promise in a vexing global battle: Big improvements in ending corruption, it suggests, can come from small changes in the environment that allows it to happen.

Read the full article at -- Bribe Fighter - The Boston Globe

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