The astounding figure Richard Rose and Caryn Peiffer report in their new book, Paying Bribes for Public Services, that almost one quarter of world’s population or 1.6 billion people, recently paid a bribe would suggest the answer to the question above is a resounding “No.” The 1.6 billion figure sounds so fantastically large that the suspicion arises that it is one of those gauzy numbers conjured up using shaky assumptions and questionable sources to capture headlines rather than advance learning. Yet recent research by the World Bank’ Art Kraay and University of Maryland Professor Peter Murrell shows that, if anything, the Rose and Peiffer 1.6 billion number is low.
Their figure is based on the most solid of evidence: interviews by phone or in-person where respondents are asked whether they had to pay a bribe to obtain a public service. Transparency International’s 2013 Global Corruption Barometer, a main source for the 1.6 billion number, is an example. Surveyors first ask respondents if they or anyone else in their household has had any contact in the past 12 months with anyone associated with any of eight government services: i) the education system, ii) the judiciary, iii) medical or health services, iv) the police, v) registry and permit services, vi) utilities, vii) tax collection or, viii) land service. If the answer is yes, the surveyor then asks:
In your contact or contacts have you or anyone living in your household paid a bribe in any form in the past 12 months?
What could be a more reliable way to gather evidence of bribery? Instead of asking what people think about bribery or what their perceptions of bribery or corruption are, they are asked about their own personal experience, or that of close relatives, with the crime of bribery. The rub comes with the last phrase in the preceding sentence: the respondent is being questioned about “the crime of bribery.”