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Roadside Bribery – bottom up corruption?

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Roadside bribery is common in Sri Lanka. It has allowed traffic regulations to be largely ignored. Has this practice created the conditions for bribes higher up? And what can be done about this?

We all shout and cry when we hear about the levels of bribery and corruption that the previous governmental regime was tangled in during their reign in the nation and our current government is doing a fairly good job at carrying out a thorough and commendable investigation to bring these individuals to justice. Yet, when we overtake on the double line, run a red light or don’t stop at the pedestrian crossing, we don’t have the slightest issue in including an orange, purple, green or gold note when handing the attending officer our license and registration.

Does the embezzlement and corruption not start from these sorts of grassroots levels? If those who are supposed to uphold justice do not abide by the system, then how is it that we can complain when those who govern the system carry out the same acts on a larger scale?

A young man used to paying bribes to the police because of this speeding habit, might not see him taking a bribe, while in public office 10 years from today, is a wrong thing. Since the guardians of the law didn’t find it wrong why should he ever bother not to? That is corruption caused by a bottom up manner; from grassroots to public office.

We entrust our government to put away those who do not abide by the law, to ensure that social harmony is achieved. In turn, the government entrusts the Police officers to dedicate their lives to ensuring that justice is upheld through the law. I didn’t know that it only costs Rs.100 to avoid a court sentence or a Rs. 5000 ticket. It’s this sort of hypocrisy that causes a social stalemate. Where society can never progress until a move is made.

In chess, when you are stuck in a tricky position you can do one of two things: make a move that will progress the game, or make a move that enters a stalemate. If you don’t look for the move that will progress the game you will always end up reaching a stalemate and then, as we all know, there is no winner. This is what has happened within our justice system, we have not looked to correct the ways of the Police Force, the government expects it to correct itself.

Understanding the numerous reasons why status quo promotes bribes for traffic violations, which I won’t dwell much further into because none of which are a justification for the continuation of accepting bribes. We can see that some correction needs to go on within the system itself rather than telling officers to stop taking bribes. It just doesn’t work. Either by taking action against the officers, or taking preventive actions (which I personally think is the best option and I’ll explain both now).

Let’s look at preventive measures first, we can see that one reason officers take bribes is because they are underpaid. I think we can see the simple solution here. Pay increases do not need to be vast, but considering the amount spent on other sectors of the economy, I believe that for the sake of upholding justice (especially when we make such a big deal about it elsewhere) the opportunity cost is minimal.

Another method of preventing bribes from happening is “correction cams” which have been implemented in several countries in the western world. Where, speeding, running red lights, overtaking on bends and numerous other violations are caught on camera and the driver is ticketed through the mail. This way there is no chance of paying a bribe, and we can already see organisations like Swaranavahini launching programs entitled “Haridey da Kerey?” (translating to “Did you do the right thing?”) where individuals are interviewed on the road when they do not follow correct highway protocol. We also have Sri Lanka Traffic Violations, a thriving facebook page filled with everyday individuals capturing faults on the road and posting the video on facebook noting their license plate number. If the government were to enact measures such as these, which are very low cost mind you, think of the major reduction in traffic violations and with that bribes paid and accepted. (Just two of the numerous solutions)

Now I’d like to look at measures which can be taken on a more targeted stance. Actions against the officers who take bribes. Mr. Asanga Abeygoonesekera has launched a site in Sri Lanka which is currently thriving in India. Ipaidabribe.lk, a highly user friendly site that allows you to anonymously report when an officer took a bribe for any sort of action. It also allows you the option to give information on the name of the officer, which station he’s from, where you paid the bribe etc. You can also report when you said no to paying a bribe when offered to waiver the fault by the officer though the option, “I did not pay a bribe”. Not only that, it also gives you the option of reporting a good officer, where you can report when you “met an honest officer”. You can publish reports, comments and they even have a team manning a hotline when you are in a sticky situation with an officer.

It’s these sorts of initiatives that we need to bring this problem to rest in Sri Lanka. If the government won’t take action, then it’s up to us as a society to make a change. So next time you are asked to solicit a bribe from an officer who stops you for the fault you committed on the road, take responsibility, accept your fault and carry on with the just proceedings. Once you get home, log on to Ipaidabribe.lk and report the officer and explain what happened. Next time you see a fault carried out by someone on the road, catch it on your dash cam or ask a passenger to record it on their phone, post it on the facebook page Sri Lanka Traffic Violations and make sure to note the license plate number.

Admittedly, without action by the government, this won’t be able to take its true effect, but change starts from the heart of society. Be that change, start revamping society.

This article is fisrt of a 2 part series on Bribery which is a part of a larger series on The Inefficiency of the Sri Lankan Police Force which will be released in a series of segments on www.venasak.tk . Part 2 on Bribes within Government Offices will be released soon.

The original article appeared on www.venasak.tk which is a brand new initiative to encourage the use of the #Venasak hashtag to raise a voice of change on social media platforms. 

 

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