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In Russia, the Crowd Targets Corruption and Bribes
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In Russia, the Crowd Targets Corruption and Bribes

Those familiar with Russia know the country has a massive problem with corruption and bribery. While the issue has been atop the government’s to-do list since the fall of the Soviet Union, little headway has been made thus far.

Now, a crowdsourcing application is looking to show just how much money is being spent on bribes in hopes of stemming the unhealthy practice, and it’s looking for input from the corrupters themselves.

Bribr, as the application is called, is simple to use. Those who have downloaded the app to their smartphone can tag their location and fill out a brief form asking them how much money they gave (or took), to what type of institution, and for what. The information appears on a map for the public to see.

The crowdmapping project has thus been tracking bribes since late September. So far, the total stands at over 6 million rubles – more than $200,000. That number, though, only begins to scratch the surface of the problem.

Globally, Russia is looked upon as a country very friendly to bribery. A 2011 report by Transparency International on perception of corruption, for example, gave Russia a score of 2.4 out of 10, putting it in the company of East Timor, Pakistan, and Sierra Leone.

In a manifesto published on its site, the Bribr team makes ten claims regarding its mission. Translated roughly, they are:

  1. Bribr is for looking truth in the eyes.
  2. Bribr is for local government and business corruption.
  3. Bribr is apolitical.
  4. Bribr operates anonymously.
  5. Bribr isn’t about specific individuals.
  6. Bribr isn’t targeting those who take bribes, and;
  7. Bribr isn’t targeting those who give bribes.
  8. Bribr cannot verify the validity of reported information.
  9. Bribr believes in the power of numbers.
  10. Bribr believes in social responsibility.

The app has won endorsements from prominent opposition activist Alexey Navalny and TV host Ksenia Sobchak. To promote the initiative, the Bribr team handed out zero-ruble notes, pictured above.

Bribes in Russia have come to be seen as a sort of norm. Traffic cops are often on the receiving end, as are military officials, who are paid off to keep young men out of the draft. The Bribr map shows that corruption permeates business and education, too – these two categories make up over 40 percent of money tracked.

For a numbers-focused site, however, it's disheartening that Bribr cannot make any claim to accuracy, as only about 100 bribes have been reported and they cannot be verified. Three bribes make up about a third of the total – a million rubles to obtain a license, and half a million each to get into a university and a kindergarten. The total also includes kickbacks given and collected in Ukraine.

Bribr is important because shows Russians are fed up with bribery and want to put a tangible number on a huge economic and social problem – and the concept itself is compelling. But to really tackle corruption, more actionable initiatives will need to be put in place.

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  • Stuart P. Armstrong Stuart P. Armstrong Dec 04, 2012 09:34 pm GMT

    Anton, thanks for this story. No one would believe me if I was to say this app existed! I'm sure these people must fear for their safety.

    My late Dad did a lot of business in Nigeria during 1980's- they call this DASH in Nigeria.

    And "lilly white" Canadians will have to admit we have a lot of DASH right here. Voila!

    As little "larcency" has to be permitted ie. Napster's, but when it destroys the fabric of daily life for us in the 99.99%, then GOV has to step in. Perhaps the UN should have a "corruption" group who measure the "reported levels" and then send in "observers" who will SHAME plutocrats and oligs like VPutin etc. How about "economic crimes". (which in some cases can be more damaging than "war type" crimes.

    Stuart in Canada

  • Anton Root Anton Root Dec 05, 2012 08:44 pm GMT

    Yes, it's definitely a huge issue, and thanks for sharing your examples - it's a problem that isn't limited to the 'developing' world. It's also important to keep in mind that corruption is often a response to larger socioeconomic issues. In Russia, for example, low wages for university faculty, teachers, and police officers make bribery a source of income that may be needed to keep a family from going hungry.


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