Under the program, government clerks are required to log the cell phone numbers of citizens with whom they do business. The citizens then receive a robocall from Punjab's top official, Shahbaz Sharif. The recorded call informs them that they will receive a text message asking if they had to pay a bribe, or whether they have any complaints.
Their responses are logged into a computer database. Call center agents also contact citizens who don't respond in case they weren't able to read the text message, a common problem in a country where the literacy rate is near 50 percent.
So far, more than 1 million citizens have been contacted under the program, and about 175,000 of those either responded to the text message or talked with a call center agent. About 6,000 — or 1 in 29 — reported corruption. More than 18,000 others reported other types of complaints.
The low level of corruption reported could be partly driven by citizens' reluctance to tell government officials the truth, said Michael Callen, an assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, who is conducting research on the program. That could improve as the program becomes more widely known, the anonymity of individuals is protected and more punitive action is taken against corrupt officials, he said.
The initiative's scale and proactive solicitation of feedback differentiate it from other anti-corruption efforts around the globe, such as the "I Paid a Bribe" website run by an Indian non-profit group. The website and other similar schemes rely on citizens to take the initiative to complain. That can produce fictional accusations made to blackmail honest officials, said Umar Saif, head of the Punjab technology board.
The Punjab government already has used data from the program to pressure officials to clean up their operations.
The chief minister's office recently sent the top official in Rawalpindi district more than 100 reports of corruption at an office that issues residency certificates to citizens, said Awan, the official involved in the program. That resulted in clerks being suspended. The government also has punished clerks who sought to avoid oversight by falsifying citizens' cell phone numbers.
But not everyone is convinced the program is a good idea, raising questions about whether there is sufficient political will to follow through.
The top political official in Lahore, Noor-ul-Amin Mengal, said bribes were so ingrained in the system that he was worried the bureaucracy might seize up if low-level officials couldn't take them.
"I'm a practical man," Mengal said. "If an official is worried he is going to get into trouble, he may just delay the transaction."
Associated Press writers Zaheer Babar in Lahore and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.