Using RTI Rivals Bribery in Fighting Bureaucracy

6 May 2011

Right to information requests rival bribery as a way to cut through bureaucratic red tape in India, according to two studies by U.S. academics.

The experiments involved the complicated processes of registering to vote and getting ration cards, and were conducted by Yale University political scientists, Leonid Peisakhin and Paul Pinto.

Bribery is a better technique, they found, but not by much.

To run their comparison, the researchers recruited “confederates” to make applications with government agencies in the New Delhi area.

 In some cases their applications were facilitated by “middlemen,” part of a well-established network of facilitators. They received $20 to help with each ration card request and $25 for each election roll application.

Other applicants followed up their requests with RTI letters inquiring about the status of their request and the average wait time. Other applicants did nothing, although in the ration card experiment another group of requesters had a nongovernmental organization group submit a letter of support, which proved to be almost useless.

The application processes took so long that even after a year many applicants had not received the desired result in both studies, but the results were nevertheless quite clear, according to Peisakhin and Pinto.

Effective Alternative to Bribery

Overall, Peisakhin wrote, “I have demonstrated that India’s RTIA provides a free and effective alternative to bribery.”

In the study of voting registration, Peisakhin reported that filing an RTI request resulted in “dramatically faster processing times than the standard application procedure.” Applications facilitated by bribes got registered in 140 days for the poor. Those using RTI received their approval in 164 days. Correspondingly the rates approval with bribery by middle class participants was 123 days, and 150 days using RTI. Without either enhanced technique, the time lag was over 300 days. (Measurements based on median application processing time.)

For both experiments, the researchers noted that because RTIA requests were filed after making the applications — sometimes days later, other times weeks later – that method of influence was slower  than bribery.

Another element of the Peisakhin research was to examine whether social class made a difference, and he concluded that it did — middle-class applicants were added to the electoral register faster than less-privileged counterparts. However, he reported, “Access to information appears to empower the poor to the point where they receive almost the same treatment as middle-class individuals at the hands of civil servants.”

In the ration card study by Peisakhin and Pinto, they reached similar conclusions: that using RTI gets better results than the standard application procedure, and that it is “almost as effective as bribery.”

They reported that members of both the “speed money” and RTIA groups were 94 percent successful in getting ration cards over the course of a year, compared to a 21 percent success rate for the others in the experiment. Those using bribery got cards in a media of 82 days, while the RTIA group got theirs in 120 days. Doing nothing extra meant a wait of 343 days.

For both studies, the researchers said they cannot shed much light on the specific mechanism behind RTIA effectiveness. 

Their work drew attention in India recently with the publication of an article by Rukmini Shrinivasan in The Times of India.

The ration card article, “Is transparency an effective anti-corruption strategy? Evidence from a field experiment in India,” by Peisakhin and Pinto was published in Regulation, and Governance in September 2010, and it’s available here: Non-academic users will need to pay a fee to access this article. 

The other piece, by Peisakhin, “Transparency and Corruption,” will be published in January 2012 in The Journal of Law and Economics, and it will not be available until then even for a fee.


Be Sociable, Share!

Tags: ,

Filed under: What's New