Friday, 15 June 2012

Sustainable bribery

There is an interesting abstract here of a paper on Asian corruption, particularly bribery. The author describes two main types of bribery with important differences. His exemplars of this duality are India and Indonesia. 
  • Pervasiveness, or how rampant bribery is, and how easy it is to tell whether bribery is acceptable.
  • Arbitrariness, or the likelihood of whether the bribe will result in the requested service.
 Indonesia is a very corrupt country, but, at the same time, if you bribe you get preferential treatment as promised.

In India, bribery is very prevalent but uncertain. You may not know who to bribe, how much to bribe, and whether or not you will get the benefits promised. It’s very risky to bribe, and can be very costly.

In other words, bribery can work if, as in Indonesia, everyone knows the rules and abides by them. Sounds obvious enough - if you have a culture of bribery, it's a good idea to do it properly.

My father used to tell a story about bribery in Malta not long after the war. He was stationed there with the Royal Navy and local accommodation was very difficult to find. One day Dad suddenly twigged. He offered a wad of notes to a local solicitor and as if by magic a very nice flat became available, much better than anything the ship's captain had been able to find.

I suspect this predictable type of bribery may be more prevalent in the EU than is ever officially recognized. We are certainly finding just how widespread economic corruption is in terms of dodgy accounting, especially by governments.

So the nature of predictable bribery may be a bigger threat than we commonly imagine, spread inexorably by the need to do business globally. Predictable bribery works simply because the although the bribe itself has to be covert, the rules are reasonably overt and reliable. So the deal gets done.

In which case, bribery may well become more common. The day may come when we all have to offer bribes in certain well-understood situations. Of course in may covert and indirect ways, our government already does and always has.


James Higham said...

In other words, bribery can work if, as in Indonesia, everyone knows the rules and abides by them.

Going to take this up and give the Russian situation - very similar.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, especially given the US injunctions against handing out moolah. As to why the Indian situation seems different is curious - possibly depends on who is offering the bribe. I seem to remember suitcases of dollars or Georgian silverware being the favoured mode.

A pervasive problem and not just in Asia, I have still not had an opportunity to wear that ermine.

A K Haart said...

James - I imagine it's extremely common in Russia.

Roger - are you sure the silver you handed over for the ermine was Georgian? I was caught out in that way when my K never arrived.

Sam Vega said...

A few years ago, a Latvian student wanted a place on a course at my College. He met all the criteria so he got the place, but not before he had thrust on me a bottle of scotch and a big box of chocolates. I tried to give them back, but he created a huge fuss; I got the impression that this was how things were done in his part of the world.

Instead of creating embarrassment, I decided to give the gifts to the Bursar for safe keeping and then get them back to the Latvian bloke when there was nobody around. The Bursar was a highly moral Scot and we both agreed that even the idea of handing back the gifts made us feel deliciously superior, and proud of the way we run our country.

Alas, the Latvian completed his course early, and left before I could get to him. I told the Bursar to drink the scotch, but knowing him he probably raffled it and gave the proceeds to charity.

To this day, I still feel irrationally shitty about this episode. I really regret not getting to him earlier. But I certainly didn't harm anyone, and did exactly as the student expected ...

A K Haart said...

Sam - interesting story and I know exactly what you mean. I had one or two experiences - bottles of wine from suppliers etc. It became far less common as finance departments took over more of the purchasing.

I hated it but usually managed to avoid it. I think I recall passing a bottle of wine to the Christmas raffle.