Wednesday, September 5, 2012
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.
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