Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bribes and Extortions after SHTF

Hi Ferfal,
I was wondering. In many countries where corruption begins to show, it
seems very common that officials and persons of authority expect or
demand bribes. Having never experienced this situation before, can you
tell me what are the (unwritten) rules of these situations. How is it
initiated? By who? How’s the amount set? etc etc.
Many thanks for any insight you can give!

“Son, do you have the latest Technical Revision of your vehicle?”
The technical revision is a state issued paper that says that your vehicle is in proper working condition. You can lose all day to get that paper, after bribing an employee that will always find something wrong with the car. Either that or you can bribe the guys standing outside the building that sells you the authorization directly.
“No officer, I didn’t do it yet this year.”
The cop was visibly glad I didn’t. That was just what he was expecting. This happened many years ago, when I was a bit “greener.” Today, I wouldn’t get fooled so easily at these control posts and checkpoints.
Most of the time I get close to the car in front of me, try to hide behind it, and speed up a bit as I get close to the post, looking the other way to avoid eye contact. That way I avoid these unpleasant encounters.
The cop said, “Sorry, I’ll have to take your car then.”
I knew what he wanted but I wanted to at least make him say it, so I said, “Sure officer, you do what you have to do.”
“I’m not kidding, I’ll take the vehicle and you’ll have to go get it at the station.” The cop didn’t expect my reply.
“That’s too bad, sir, but if that’s the law then that’s what you have to do I guess.”
The cop had had enough “Son, those plans and blueprints you have in the back of the vehicle? What are they?”
I told him, “Architectural plans.”
“Okay…do you need me to ‘draw’ what’s happening here?” said the nice police officer with a menacing tone of voice.
“No, officer,” I said, and handed him my driver’s license yet again, but this time with twenty bucks folded under it. The officer grabbed the money, gave me back my license, and I left. Given his threat, it was more of a robbery than a bribe.

This is just part of the chapter on Bribes of my book, “The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse”.
I wrote it knowing that somewhere, at some point, these sort of things would end up being needed or becoming common occurrence in places where it didn’t used to be that way.
I hope with all my heart that this never becomes common occurrence in USA and other countries where, while corruption to some level does exist, its not as obvious and not part of daily life for most people.
As things degrade though, or maybe when traveling to places where the situation is worse, there may be a time when you’ll just have to do it. Try to bribe your way out of a speeding ticket in USA and you’ll land in jail. Try NOT bribing a cop in Ciudad del Este if he stops you and that will land you in the bottom of the Parana River. When authorities “demand” a bribe as you said, there’s not much you can do.
Regarding your questions, How is it initiated and by who? Generally it’s the figure of authority that will start beating around the bush about you not having this or that paper, usually something that makes little sense. You will rarely be asked directly for a bribe. The most shameless officials may ask for a “voluntary contribution” or something similar, or ask for money directly. But generally they wait and drag things until you offer them money or slip it along with your papers or documents. If you honestly don’t know whats going on or even fail to see if you’re being indirectly demanded money, something like “what can we do about this to solve the problem?” may give you more leads, or “would a contribution help solve this?”.

How’s the amount set? It depends on the “favor”. A cop that stops you in Florencio Varela in Argentina a Saturday night probably  just wants a small “contribution” for pizza, sometimes they ask for “money for pizza” directly, so the equivalent of 20 to 30 USD would do. If crossing a South American border someone gives you a hard time, maybe insinuates that you’re carrying illegal substances (that you don’t have) basically threatening to throw you in jail for the rest of your natural life, then 200 or 500, even  1000 USD may be in order. Heck, how much would you pay for your life? Same for escaping a sieged or restricted area. Buying your way out of Sarajevo in a UN vehicle was reported to cost about 10.000 USD.  As you see, it greatly depends.

My humble suggestions would be:
1)Don’t do it.

2)Do it only when you have no choice, and especially if you know that is what’s expected of you, or less…

3)Ask carefully, just in case you’re missing something, maybe really missing some information you actually needed to have, and you’re getting the wrong signal regarding being demanded a bribe.

4)If you have to do it, offer it in a way that the authority doesn’t feel as if you’re trying to make the bribe obvious to others. You might get in even greater trouble if the official feels threatened in any way.

5)Just leaving the money among the papers or documents is generally a good call. If it had been demanded of you he will just take it, if not the official will just leave the money there and hand you back the money with your documents. “Are you trying to bribe me?” Maybe you got the wrong idea, maybe it was something lost to you in translation, in this case you can claim that the money was simply there with your paperwork, which is believable given that you generally do have money along with your documents and papers, especially when traveling.

Really, it is tricky business and I at least try to avoid it as much as possible. Having lived in a 3rd world country most of my life and traveling to even worse bordering countries, it’s a situation I’ve been in and I’ll do my best to never be in it ever again.

Join the forum discussion on this post!


Anonymous said...

Keep bribe cash seperately. You don't want to display a wallet full of cash to a cop. Second, the transaction is more discrete if you reach into your shirt pocket as if grabbing an ID, especially if in a busy street.


Anonymous said...

Having grown up in Southern California, I went on MANY excursions to Mexico (drinking age is/was 16 and was completely uninforced). Being gringos we were easy to spot, white kids on vacation = easy money. Our first trip was horrible. We got stopped twice on our way to our destination and both times were easily intimidated out of way more money than was necessary. As time went on, we learned the "rules." Unless you really did something bad it was a simple, "What's the fine? Can I pay the fine now?" And that fine was always negotiable. It was a fine line for the authorities. They wanted your money but they didn't want trouble and didn't want to scare away the other gringos. Some towns took complaints VERY seriously and they became huge party towns for gringos (and their money) and protected that industry vehemently (not that they gave you the run of town but they knew where their money came from). It was just a part of the expense of our "vacation." We learned to never keep all of our money on our person and to have several hiding spaces. Bribe money is in the wallet. They could always tell when they were dealing with someone who knew the deal or someone they could really milk. Also, big difference between locals and Federales. Federales were always an expensive bribe but they never really bugged you unless you were in the sticks. In towns, cities and major highways it was just the locals. When it comes to bribes you can be told this and that and it WILL help but experience with it is the key. The more experience you have with it, the better you are at spotting it and dealing with it.

Anonymous said...

I once had to take a Toyota Landcruiser through Morocco, to a development project in a country further south in West Africa. On the crossing from Spain I had been put with the truck drivers rather than with the car drivers, and for this I got a free meal on the ferry and a carton of 200 cigarettes. Though I don't smoke I thought I'd give them to African friends later. The next day, driving through Morocco, I got pulled over by a cop for speeding. He was very friendly, and there was no other traffic around. We chatted a bit and I thought 'I'm going to get away with this'. Finally he said, 'you need to pay'. I said. 'how much?'. hH said. 'how much do can you pay?'. I said, 'do you smoke?' thinking of giving him the whole 200. He seemed very happy. So I then decided I'd start with a pack of 20 and see how it went. I tell you, it made the guy's day, he was so happy with the 20 Marlboro. We parted the best of friends.

k said...

Thanks for not greatly inflating the price of baksheesh in Morocco. Over a dozen years ago, Chinese merchants ran up the price in Lesoto, where it used to be a cigarette could get you whatever paperwork you needed, but they spoiled it by giving them more and more cash.

A half dozen years ago I got stopped by seven cops for driving without a license on a nice tropical island in Asia. The fine was 30,000 of the local currency, which I calculated to be less than US$4. Every denomination of the funny money I stored in its own clothes pocket, but I forgot which pocket had the 10,000 unit bills. I carefully checked my pockets close to the vest, since I didn't think they would have given me change for a 100,000 or 50,000 bill. The last pocket had the 10,000s so I peeled off 3 bills cafefully and paid the fine on the spot. Fortunately, there was no paperwork for me to do or receive.

Don Williams said...

1) If our USA politicans don't let policemen steal it is only because the politicans don't like competition. In small towns there is definitely one law for the rich and another one for the poor.

2) I live in a suburb of
that is supposed to be reasonably clean but we had an amusing incident the other day.

A divorced woman known to party with one of our local Supervisors (Board of officals who run the local government) got drunk and then got into a very loud, public brawl with her ex-husband when he refused to let her pick up her children at his house (because she was drunk). He wouldn't open the door so She tore up a flowerbed in front of his house and threw the flowers in the street. Police were called and she was charged with drunkeness.

However, the charges were later dismissed because the two policemen did not show up at her
trial to testify. Allegedly because a "clerical mistake" meant they were not notified that they were scheduled to appear in court.
A mistake that is extremely rare.

By the strangest coincidence, the same two policemen had been given major promotions in a public ceremony the night before by the Board of Supervisors.

Anonymous said...

Living in Mexico full time, I always feel better asking about a 'license' or 'fee.' Keeps it friendlier. Have never had run-ins with police but occasionally with bureaucrats.

My town is a minor but wealthy resort, and we have many foreign owned factories. Two years ago the local Immigrado office made the mistake of hassling the wife of a European diplomat, and the entire office was replaced. There is so much foreign money here; the authorities do not want anything ruined by a nickle and dime grifter. In the new office there was a young female official that was very unpleasant to me and my Spanish teacher personally, in talking it over with friends I found that she was kind of notorious; next time we went in my teacher, who does quite a bit of business there, complained to the functionary in charge of customer service and she got a huge public lecture, and has since disappeared. Do not hassle the wealthy (by local standards) Gringos as they might be important business owners.

In the US my family is middle class, here we are part of the upper 4-5%. Plus the Gringo colony, including me, is seriously involved in local charities; after a recent hurricane over USD150k was donated and used (not by local officials) in less than a week. That kind of thing makes a huge difference. I personally know officials I can go to if I feel I need to, and my friends can point me to their friends if necessary. Knowing WHO to pay off is 90% of the deal.

Our 2nd vice president, for instance, is the son of the last mayor, and is the brother-in-law of the present one. Eventually he will probably be running the place. But he is not at all dead weight.