Munich Personal RePEc Archive

Why, for a Class of Bribes, the Act of Giving a Bribe should be Treated as Legal

Basu, Kaushik (2011): Why, for a Class of Bribes, the Act of Giving a Bribe should be Treated as Legal. Published in: Ministry of Finance Government of India Working Paper No. 1/2011-DEA (March 2011)

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Abstract

The paper puts forward a small but novel idea of how we can cut down the incidence of bribery. There are different kinds of bribes and what this paper is concerned with are bribes that people often have to give to get what they are legally entitled to. I shall call these ― “harassment bribes”. Suppose an income tax refund is held back from a taxpayer till he pays some cash to the officer. Suppose government allots subsidized land to a person but when the person goes to get her paperwork done and receive documents for this land, she is asked to pay a hefty bribe. These are all illustrations of harassment bribes. Harassment bribery is widespread in India and it plays a large role in breeding inefficiency and has a corrosive effect on civil society. The central message of this paper is that we should declare the act of giving a bribe in all such cases as legitimate activity. In other words the giver of a harassment bribe should have full immunity from any punitive action by the state. It is argued that this will cause a sharp decline in the incidence of bribery. The reasoning is that once the law is altered in this manner, after the act of bribery is committed, the interests of the bribe giver and the bribe taker will be at divergence. The bribe giver will be willing to cooperate in getting the bribe taker caught. Knowing that this will happen, the bribe taker will be deterred from taking a bribe. It should be emphasized that what is being argued in this paper is not a retrospective pardon for bribe-giving. Retrospective pardons are like amnesties. They encourage rather than discourage corrupt behavior by rewarding the corrupt. And, in the process, they corrode society‘s morals.

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