The Lure of Fake Money

McLeod Governance is often asked how organisations can best protect themselves against the scourge of corruption.

There are many and varied approaches that can be taken and the effectiveness of each has to be considered on a case by case basis.

It was within this context that we were recently forwarded by a reader an article from The Economist about the concept of fake money.

Worthless currency is not necessarily useless. It can be a pointed way of shaming someone who asks for a bribe. That is the thinking behind zero-rupee notes, an Indian anti-corruption gimmick now attracting worldwide interest. They look roughly like 50-rupee ($0.80) notes; people are encouraged to hand them to corrupt officials, signalling resistance to sleaze.

Vijay Anand, founder of 5th Pillar, an anti-bribery campaign that launched the notes, calls them a “non-violent weapon of non co-operation”. His group has distributed more than 2.5m since 2007. The idea is catching on: campaigners from Argentina, Nepal, Mexico and Benin have been in touch asking for details. Malaysia is mulling a similar project. And a worthless note will be launched in Yemen next year.

Yemen is usually reckoned to be one of the world’s most corrupt countries. But Mariam Adnan, an activist there, says a new generation may be amenable to change. Her group is handing out 5,000 “honest riyals” in schools and universities. “You have to change minds before you can change laws,” she says.

Such campaigns might be risky in countries where bribes are extorted at gunpoint. But in places where public opinion is already shifting, they could be a useful way of making bureaucrats behave better. Shaazka Beyerle, an expert on civil resistance campaigns, says that using the zero-rupee note offers protection. It shows a person’s affiliation with a larger movement which cannot be brushed aside by one angry official.

In addition to the obvious benefits of such an approach the fake money approach got McLeod Governance thinking about how the characteristics of this scheme could be adopted in an organisation.

What would be the organisational equivalent of fake money and would it be ethical to adopt such a scheme?

The second question first – we can see no reason why it would not be ethical.  The person with the challenged ethics is the person that is the soon to be recipient of the fake money, not the person giving!

The issue as to what would be the organisational equivalent – perhaps an invitation to an event that shouldnt be accepted; the deposit of a gift on one’s desk that should be returned (or at least declared).


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