Posted by: cousindampier | 31 January 2010

Fighting Corruption

Actually, this is a remarkably creative way to fight corruption, but it has a context which makes it unique to India. Bribery is illegal there, but just unenforceable in some place, however:

corrupt officials seldom encounter resistance by ordinary people that they become scared when people have the courage to show their zero rupee notes, effectively making a strong statement condemning bribery.

What does this mean for a state like Afghanistan? It is a hopeful idea, but I don’t think it is practicable. When bribery is accepted throughout the nation, and not just in parts where it is, for whatever reason, unenforceable, the zero-note is probably useless. At the same time, it’s a brilliant idea for where bribery is shamed and practiced where there is a gap in law enforcement.

This last point—people knowing that they are not alone in the fight—seems to be the biggest hurdle when it comes to transforming norms vis-à-vis corruption. For people to speak up against corruption that has become institutionalized within society, they must know that there are others who are just as fed up and frustrated with the system. Once they realize that they are not alone, they also realize that this battle is not unbeatable. Then, a path opens up—a path that can pave the way for relatively simple ideas like the zero rupee notes to turn into a powerful social statement against petty corruption.

Afghanistan is not near that point now. Maybe if the government remains stable, roots out corruption in the big institutions, develops and cultivates a system of laws, deals with the Taliban, extends the state to the rural areas, and develops an economy…yeah, then this might work.

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