WikiProject Bribery

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Using Wikimedia donor money to pay bribes

WikiProject Bribery is a Wikimedia volunteer community project for discussing best practices for Wikimedia movement affiliates to use funding from the Wikimedia Foundation to pay bribes to government officials. Bribery is a controversial topic to discuss. Avoiding the conversation does nothing to make the problem go away.

The Wikimedia Foundation is based in the United States and funds programs throughout the world. Unrelated to the wiki world or the Wikimedia Foundation, there is global common knowledge that when foundations in the United States send money into countries with less economic development, then agents of the government ask for a cut of that funding.

This is a problem because the current design of the Wikimedia Foundation funding and sponsorship system places the burden of experiencing the harassment for bribes onto the Wikimedia community volunteer who applies for funding. In the better funded regions in the Wikimedia Movement, such as the United States and Europe, volunteers can organize Wikimedia activities without harassment for bribes and they receive the fullness of Wikimedia Foundation praise and support. In developing economies, the Wikimedia volunteers who register organizations and bank accounts make themselves the target of harassment from their own government then get shamed by the Wikimedia Foundation for experiencing that harassment.

There are solutions to the challenge of addressing bribery. All solutions start with conversation and the end of hiding the issue.

Common knowledge[edit]

  1. Bribery and corruption exist, as described in many Wikipedia articles in many languages
  2. Government agent requests for bribes to Wikimedia community organizations are as common as their requests for bribes to any other NGO
  3. When a non-governmental organization (NGO) or nonprofit organization operates in a country with less money, and that organization gets money from a richer country, then agents from that government will ask the foreign-funded organization for a cut of the funding 100 points Emoji.png
  4. Wikimedia chapters and user groups operate in the developing world and the Wikimedia Foundation funds them. The WMF is wealthy and everyone knows this.
  5. The Wikimedia community volunteers who are named representatives of Wikimedia community organizations in the developing world experience bribery harassment
  6. The Wikimedia Foundation knows that volunteers in the developing world get bribery harassment in these protection rackets for bribes, graft, corruption, or whatever name
  7. The Wikimedia community organization which raises the issue or asks for support will experience shaming from the Wikimedia Foundation

Nonprofit registration experience[edit]

In a more weathly country

A group of about 5 Wikimedia contributors decide to start a Wikimedia community organization. Suppose they are in the United States. The group goes to a local government website, completes a form, and pays about US$100 (2 days minimum wage pay). The registration is immediate. This entire process takes about 1 hour. Now the organization can go to a central government website and get a tax identification number for free in about 30 minutes. With the local government registration and the central government registration, anyone from the now-incorporated organization can go to any bank probably after 3 days and set up a bank account in about 45 minutes. After the bank account is set up the organization can receive funding into that account from the Wikimedia Foundation or anyone else.

All of this seems completely normal to everyone in wealthier countries.

In a less wealthy country

The advertised process is that somehow a group of about 5 people make a certification that they will establish an organization. Perhaps they apply online, or perhaps they go collectively in person to a government agency, or perhaps they make a group certification at a notary and then one member of the group represents them all at a government office to register the organization. Somewhere in the application there is a question about receiving money from foreign organizations. As the group would like to receive funding from the Wikimedia Foundation, they answer "yes we will receive foreign money". Otherwise, maybe the question is not on the form, but there either a requirement to declare foreign funding as it comes into the country, or perhaps the banks report any foreign transaction coming to NGOs.

Certain government agents come to know that a wealthy foreign organization has sent money into the country. They check who registered the organization then ask these people for money. For Wikimedia community organizations, the people who register them are Wikimedia community members and volunteers. These people then experience the customary patterns of harassment for bribes.

Bribery harassment[edit]

Bribery harassment occurs when a government agent asks a Wikimedia community volunteer for bribery. The request for bribery originates from two circumstances: the registration of an NGO, such as to become a Wikimedia chapter, or associated with a bank transfer from the Wikimedia Foundation to the Wikimedia chapter as the payment gets flagged as a nonprofit money from a wealthy foundation.

What happens if one pays the bribe

By paying the bribe one gets a fast, easy, inexpensive, legal registration for their organization and its operations. Bribery leads to orderly bureaucracy, licensing, credentials, and accounting.

What happens if one does not pay the bribe

By not paying bribes organizational licensing will take months or years, require many hours or labor and a lot of money. Even at the end of the process there will be some irregularity in the registration, because bribery is a long game. At the time of any further need for institutional approval the bribery harassment repeats.

Types of harassment
  1. the wiki volunteer goes to a government office. Someone asks for a bribe. Either pay and proceed with the process, or fail to pay and get told to come back another day.
  2. agents pause the registration process in "processing" - the primary pressure of a bribe is wasting people's time and making a one day process take months
  3. the wiki volunteer gets home visits or work visits from a government agent or police officer. Family, neighbors, and co-workers feel fear that the Wikimedia community volunteer has the attention of the government regarding their Wikipedia participation.
  4. the agent describes the bribe as a processing fee but there is no documentation and there is doubt whether the payment is a bribe
  5. there seems to be an option to do things legally, but on this path volunteer must submit documentation regularly forever and never gain complete registration. Paying the bribe would have completed the process in a legal way quickly and at lower cost.
  6. government agents pressure the Wikimedia community volunteer to "confess". The assumption is that organizations receiving Wikimedia Foundation money must have their own scam and that only corrupt people can gain a partnership with an American foundation like the Wikimedia Foundation
  7. the volunteer escalate the matter to someone higher in the government office. This person will primarily be concerned with how much money is at stake, and if they decide it is worth their time they will want a higher bribe and send more persuasive goons making the problem worse
  8. go the legal way, but the government office intentionally puts typos and mistakes on the form and does not sign it so that it is not valid
  9. choose any of these, then do it again next year when the process repeats for the renewal of the organization's registration

Solutions to the problem[edit]

The most important change to make is to release the Wikimedia community volunteer from having to address this issue, and to the extent possible, that the Wikimedia Foundation should carry the weight of this challenge.

If a Wikimedia chapter in the developing world is experiencing bribery harassment, then here are some options to weigh:

  1. The Wikimedia Foundation acknowledges that volunteers experience the bribery harassment encourages them to talk publicly about it without shame
  2. The Wikimedia Foundation pays a third-party fiscal sponsor to manage the legal and accounting issues. Money goes from the WMF to the fiscal sponsor who then sends money to the Wikimedia community organization. In this way, the organization gets shielding from exposure to bribes.
  3. The Wikimedia Foundation reimburses volunteers who pay bribes
  4. Instead of sending non-profit funding, the Wikimedia Foundation pays chapters as commercial organizations doing business which will pay tax instead of bribes.

The current system is that the Wikimedia Foundation expects that volunteers should sort this issue among themselves, and that in the end, Wikimedia community organizations should manage their own legal issues. Those who sort it get Wikimedia Foundation support and those who fail to sort it get shamed. This is unfair and unwiki because the challenge is nonexistent in some places, and such a heavy burden in others.

Historical discussion[edit]

Here are past discussions on Meta-wiki mentioning bribery.