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Bribes and How To Avoid Them
Submitted by Barney Mayhew on August 6, 2002 - 12:00am.
Bribes, dash, baksheesh, backhanders, sweeteners, kickbacks. They all mean the same thing: giving someone something that isn’t included in the official price. Just the number of names for it gives a clue to how widespread the practice is.
So you’ve been asked for a bribe? Join the club! Aid workers are often asked for bribes – at police checkpoints, at border posts, by traffic wardens, government officials and others. In fact anyone who has something that you want is able to ask for one. It poses a dilemma as to how to respond. Should you show integrity and refuse, or do you feel you need that visa or permission or signature so much that a little cash “facilitation” is justified?
There is also the question of whose ethical standards should apply: if it is ingrained in the local culture, why not conform to that, instead of imposing your own standards from outside?
It can be a difficult problem – yet most aid workers quickly develop ways of avoiding paying bribes, and still are able to maintain good working relationships with those who ask for them.
So, why not pay bribes? For the following reasons:
In some countries the state has virtually ceased to function, and officials such as border police have received no salaries for months, sometimes years. In these cases a system of charges serves to provide them with an income. Aid agencies will sometimes regard this as necessary and understandable. In this case they may discuss the issue together, and agree on a joint position that ensures that everyone pays the same charges for the same services, and gets a receipt for any money paid. This compromise approach at least ensures that there is some accountability and transparency.
Some people claim that corruption is unavoidable – for example one travellers guide says that a certain country “is built on the practice of dash (bribe money) so don't even think about avoiding it.” Most experienced aid managers disagree with this. Many have found it possible to work for years in countries that have serious corruption, without ever paying a bribe.
How to avoid paying a bribe when asked for one? There are a thousand and one ways, and the important thing is to choose a way that suits your personality and is appropriate to the local context and culture. Some examples:
If you or one of your colleagues gets into real trouble, and you don’t know how to handle it, consult other aid managers in the same area. The chances are they will either have faced the same problem themselves, or that they will know one of the officials involved. They will probably be able to help you a great deal. And at least they will cheer you up and help you feel you’re not alone.
Corruption is here to stay, but it needn’t ruin your day!
Do you have other reasons why not to pay bribes? (Or why to pay them?!)
Do you have a favourite way of avoiding bribes?
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or join the discussion online at http://oldforum.aidworkers.net/messages/258/245.html
Barney Mayhew is an independent consultant based in London. His work focuses on helping to improve the effectiveness of interventions in emergencies, particularly through training, coordination and support to field managers.
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