One of the clichés about the so-called third world is that nothing can get done without some money--personal money--changing hands. It's not that you have to pay for everything you get; unless you live in some land touched by socialist thinking (i.e. almost every land, save the USA) you have to pay for plenty of stuff. It's that you have to pay again, to hand over money to induce some civil servant to do the job you're already paying him (or her).One of the fortunate things about living in The Bahamas--so far--is that that kind of corruption is not a pervasive feature of our society.Now this is true of the Caribbean in general. While it's certainly true that the civil service works slowly, and, for some people, paying money makes things happen faster, it's still possible to get what is due to us by waiting, by going through the channels, by doing things the right way.Correct me if I'm wrong. Maybe I'm being a starry-eyed idealist as I write this. But it seems to me that the kind of corruption that exists--for now--in our society mirrors the kind of corruption that exists in many small-scale governments, from local councils and municipal governments in places like the UK, the USA and Canada: you call in favours, draw upon who-you-know. It's only when you want to contravene the law, to outright cheat the system, that you pay bribes.Like when you want to get voters' cards, and you're not entitled to them.Or when you want to put up a business in a residential neighbourhood.Or when you want to get a driver's licence without having to pass the driving exam. Or when you want to get your phone hooked up before BTC gets around to doing it themselves.I read this article today, courtesy of Global Voices. Here's what it could be like, if we let it:
I do have to say though that I do actively resist paying bribes, mostly because it bugs the hell out of me that people have so easily fallen into an expectation that ‘backhanders’ should be given for every little thing they do. There was a time when bribes were a way to smooth extremely difficult or lengthy processes. Now it seems we need to bribe ordinary people just to get off their bottoms and do ordinary jobs.
In my case I had ‘no choice’ (that easy excuse): the failure to bribe would have caused me all sorts of personal paperwork problems and it was very clear from all the hurdles being thrown up that the government official I was dealing with had no intention of even blinking unless I gave him money.
So, R10, given to an intermediary to pass on (because I am chicken) suddenly produced activity and papers. It was so easy.
It worries me that it was so easy. Am I better off, as a person, for realising how easy it is to make my life a bit better with a bit of foreign cash? I think not. I can see now how so many fall into a pattern of bribing, their casual acceptance that bribing makes life easy leading to a casual expectation from all officials that accepting cash is the way to go.
So far, my experience as a civil servant has been that while there are scores, probably hundreds, of government employees who are accustomed to doing no more than is absolutely required of them, who do as little as possible to keep their jobs, who underperform with impunity, the average government official does not yet expect to be paid to do the basics expected of them. Not yet. But what is there to stop us from going the way of Zimbabwe, of fulfilling the myth that attaches to third-world societies?More on that later. For now, time to think.