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China in a new twist to fighting corruption via ‘confession sites’

Some emerging market countries are finding new and innovative ways to clamp down on corruption.

In the last week several Chinese sites which allow citizens to confess bribing officials have sprung up. This new way of dealing with corruption was inspired by an Indian anti-corruption site called “I Paid A Bribe” according to Hong Kong’s Wen Wei Po newspaper.

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And now there are at least eight similar Chinese sites launched since Friday, reports theChina Daily.

The sites, which aim to highlight the daily toll of corruption, invite internet users to describe the type of bribes paid and the circumstances behind the bribe, but ask them to refrain from identifying the officials involved.

Some of the sites such as, ibribery.com, woxinghuile.info and 522phone.com, have received more than 5-million users and thousands of posts in just days of launching. The upsurge in traffic caused the site’s servers to crash, according to a report on Firstpost.com.

According to a Reuters report, a businessman posted on 522phone that he had paid 3-million yuan (US$463 000) to officials in order to win contracts. His payment included a 10-day tour of Europe for one of the officials.

The businessman later added: “Don’t think I’m trying to show off my wealth with this posting. It’s just I’m so toothless and helpless in the face of current-day society”.

Posts on the sites range from the mundane, such as packs of cigarettes for traffic violations, to bigger issues such government kickbacks and bypassing the education system.

According to comments on the sites, users feel they have no choice but to bribe officials in order to get ahead.

The operators of these sites admitted that they were unable to confirm whether all posts were true and were careful to delete those which risked defaming specific individuals. They have, however, emphasised the importance of truth when exposing bribery and asked users not to resort to slanders.

“I can’t rule out that some posts could be unfounded and I don’t have any means to verify them,” Sun Bailing, who started operating another site last week in Hanshan in the eastern province of Anhui, told the China Daily.

The site owners, which include a group of anti-corruption activists and lawyers, hope to secure the government’s support for the anti-corruption platform since in fact it was the government who first floated the idea that corruption feeds social disharmony, according to Firstpost.com.

Government backing would help the sites go further and bring about real change. However, users of the sites fear censorship and the Great Chinese Firewall. China has been criticised by the western world for its lack of free speech. This has not been the case in India, where free speech is protected. China has more than 450-million internet users who have spoken out despite the Great firewall.

A message on one of the sites, “I Made a Bribe”, voiced these fears of stifling the voices against corruption. “China’s national conditions are nothing like India’s,” it said according to Reuters. “If the government lets this website continue, this country will have a little hope. If it’s shut, then there’s no hope at all.”

India’s ipaidabribe.com was started last year by the Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy, a non-profit organisation based in Bangalore with the aim of tackling corruption. The site has more than 500 000 hits to date and published cases of corruption to the value of 4.9-million rupees.

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