“Rishwat dena tho khud papa ne sikhaya!!”

Talking with my beach-going-gang, I realized there is so much more to this line from the 3 Idiots song than what I had recognized before (literal translation – “my dad himself taught me how to bribe”). I’m sure this line rings a familiar bell to most people in their twenties, some of whom actually believe that they are doing a favor to the ‘poor’ hawaldaars / thullas who otherwise get a meager salary which is not enough for them to live a decent life.

While it is rather refreshing to see the underlying sympathy and altruism on their part to take some pressure from the public officer’s shoulders, it is clearly not the only reason why they bribe. They bribe so they could get away by paying less [to the government], but even more importantly, they bribe so they could get away by not having the hassle of going to the court to pay for the ticket! So in very simple terms, the total cost to the person includes an implicit cost- Price of the ticket + transaction cost of the time they would have to spend to pay it. And it is this latter cost that makes all the difference in deciding between a ticket or a bribe.

No doubt it is an opportunity cost none of us are willing to pay, and rather take the other ‘acceptable’ route. But there are underlying costs that the society pays in return. What we do not realize is that every time a person bribes, s/he pays less to the government, and the government then has lesser still to compensate the same ‘poor’ hawaldaar! Why not pay the ticket instead and let the government take care of the salary, than trying to fix the problem single-handedly?

But I am aware that the problem is not getting fixed by simply arousing idealism. Most don’t lack it in the first place. Real key is to solve this in real-time and space. Governments need to lower the transaction cost involved therein so that people are willing to pay the ticket instead of bribing.

Why not use technology that has reached far into everyday life of a common man? If let’s say, we make it possible to pay the ticket online, it will stop at least some people who have internet access and have higher value of time. Or let’s say if we could pay it over a phone considering who doesn’t have a mobile phone these days? The point is to lower the time spent and personal interaction, to make the transaction transparent and convenient.

Maybe by doing so, the government may actually be able to increase its income, which can then be used for other tangible and intangible purposes – increasing salaries of the people who work hard for it, giving them savvier instruments to catch even more perpetrators, and letting them have a greater pride to serve in the public sector!

(Sorry dad, I do not mean it’s true for you! In fact far from it… )

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