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Small bribes go a long way

18 April 2012, 07:24

Anyone who’s travelled somewhere in Africa knows that there is only one rule to remember when doing so; always tuck a buck or so into your palm when dealing with the locals.

This rule extends even more so when dealing with some sort of official, be it border control or the dreaded blue light brigade, fining you for anything imaginable.

I recently returned from Mozambique, a place revered for the eloquently coined “African Handshake”, a place where R 200 can buy the way through any stop, no matter if your cargo consists of a kilo of Colombia’s finest, rhino horn, or just your average jacket and underwear filled Samsonite suitcase.

The bottom line is, if you get pulled over, be it next to the road or the border queue, you ARE going to reach for your wallet. You know the one you use for show... with a couple of low denominations packed inside, so it always seems like your giving them all of your money!

It truly is the law of the land...if you have wealth to spread... it shall be spread (even if you don’t have it).

These encounters are a stark reminder of the fact that all problems, no matter what their size, needs to be addressed at the core.

It’s not me you have to listen to here, it’s just plain maths.

A mathematical problem is best resolved when you break it down to its most basic form, and then start rebuilding from there.

The same concept applies to any other problem; in this case, corruption.

As a personal rule I never offer bribes to South African officials, and for a legion of reasons which among others include the fact that it’s the small things that snowball to uncontrollable sizes.

If you manage to eradicate something as small as a R 50 bribe in order to avoid a R 300 fine, you’re more than half way to uprooting large scale corruption.

In countries, especially in Africa, where poverty causes this type of behaviour, the eventuality is that a culture of corruption becomes the order of the day, making it close to impossible to combat in the long run.

We all know this country has a crime problem, which, to a certain degree, we could understand in terms of non-violent crimes (now bear with me here).

The thing that made most of us sick to the core was the absolute unnecessary violence associated with crimes that were supposed to be relatively “petty”. Burglars and hijackers who simply murder and rape comes to mind, notwithstanding the fact that they already got away with the primary crime, being robbery or theft, itself.

According to a report released in 2010 by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) (yes, I was also amazed that there is such a place), up to a third of these types of crimes were committed by people 19 year and younger.

Now, if you consider the age involved in violent crimes, to a certain extent, then you can’t help but to reach the conclusion that this “culture” is associated with a complete lack of education, especially towards morality.

Apply this concept to corruption, and you find that small bribes tend to pave the way for multi-million Rand tender fraud and miss-appropriation of funds.

I suppose the bottom line is that people that stand on the sidelines, complaining about corruption, and the way things have gone in this country, have also become part of the corrupt culture, by simply slipping a traffic official a small fee, in exchange for a larger fine. Yes, you, me and every other normal consumer or traffic offender also became part of the statistic of this culture at some stage of our lives.

On a positive note, there is a massive difference between being extorted of your money by a foreign official, basically telling you that he would make the rest of your trip in his country hell on earth, should you resist his calls for a “spot fine”, and the traffic officer next to the N4 that will only leave you with a fine for not wearing your seatbelt, if you don’t pay him or her something.

In a South African context, we are a hell of a way off the norm in Africa, where travelling is far more expensive, considering bribery, than the e-tolling system. Please don’t take my word for it, just take a trip to Maputo and see for yourself. I honestly don’t see a country like Mozambique ever overcoming this culture, and the same applies to most other African countries.

When you see this, you actually see the difference in S.A, where you get the idea that somewhere, we can actually beat this scourge. We just need to keep on doing what we’re doing, and keep educating and building a culture of accountability...and for that matter, a collective pride, and in a decade or two...who knows?

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