It pays neither to steal nor accept a bribe

Today, we begin a series of articles highlighting individual experiences of corruption. We encourage our readers to also share their experiences with us so that we can publish them with full assurances of confidentiality. Our objective is to highlight acts of corruption and their effects in a very simple and practical way. We begin our first article.

20130521transparencyDave grew up on the Corentyne, and the main mode of transportation was the bicycle. He was fortunate that his parents bought him one to go to high school, which was about four miles away. He loved his bicycle and cared it well. However, it needed a headlamp, and it was not a priority of Dave’s parents to buy him one.

Dave’s father worked in the cane fields and whenever it rained, he would walk several miles along the earthen dams to go to work. When the sun came out later in the morning and dried the dams, Dave would go with his bicycle to pick his father up after work. On a particular day when he went to do so, Dave noticed several bicycles belonging to workers that were lying on the parapet. Guess what? One of them had a beautiful headlamp. Dave stealthily slipped the headlamp out, hid it from his father and brought it home. He then fitted it on his bicycle. Observing him doing so, Dave’s father enquired from where he had gotten the headlamp and mentioned that a fellow worker had lost his. Dave’s response was that a friend had given it to him. His father apparently believed him because he did not say anything further.

The next week, Dave lent his neighbour his bicycle to go on an errand. His neighbour returned home without it. When Dave enquired what happened to his bicycle, his neighbour regretfully told him that someone had stolen it! The lesson: if you steal something, you are likely to incur losses ten-fold, maybe 100-fold. Dave vowed never again to take possession of anything that does not belong to him.

After teaching for about eight years, Dave got an accounting job with a private sector company. He was responsible for overseeing the purchase of rations for workers in the interior. One of the basic food items was dried shrimp. The company had more than enough shrimp in stock but the supplier suddenly turned up with a lorry containing several bags of the item. He had travelled some 100 miles away to bring the shrimp to Georgetown.

Despite Dave’s explanation to the supplier that the company was unable to procure any additional quantities for fear that the item would be spoilt, he pleaded with Dave to purchase it. The regular price was $9.25 per pound. He said that he would invoice the company at $9.50 per pound, and the difference belonged to Dave who looked at him in silence for a while. Then, Dave decided that the company would take all of the shrimp but on one condition. The supplier must invoice the company at $9.25 per pound! Later, the supplier said that he had not met someone like Dave in all his life. Really?

As an innocent teacher thrust in the world of business, it was Dave’s first lesson of how corruption can take place. The prices of goods and services can be inflated and the difference is given as kickbacks. He was also to learn later how large amounts of purchases can be made from one supplier without any form of competitive bidding and how commissions are paid to procurement officers for patronising that supplier. This can sometimes be done based on some “doctored” system of quotations.

Corruption is the misuse and abuse of entrenched power by politicians and bureaucrats for private gain, and in doing so, the public interest is sacrificed for private gain. Corruption takes four forms, namely, bribery, extortion, embezzlement, and fraud. We have some idea what these are. However, fraud occurs when the person involved uses the knowledge at his disposal to deceive, conceal, distort, or manipulate information for personal gain.

Corrupt behaviour results in the cost of goods and services being higher, and areas that are in dire need of financial assistance are overlooked in preference to that that offer the greatest bribes, such as capital intensive projects as opposed to expenditure on health, education, drainage and irrigation, and sanitation and waste disposal. When bribes are paid to win the award of a contract, the contractor has to find some way of recouping his expenditure. Invariably, this is done by inflating the contract price and/or by producing substandard work using inferior inputs.

Is the act of giving gifts a form of bribery? In certain societies, the practice is acceptable, but there are certain limits. A certain contractor, whom Dave did not know personally, sent him a Christmas gift of one of the most expensive bottles of whisky. Dave was taken back because at the time his office was investigating a major contract that was awarded to the contractor.

Should he have accepted the gift? Of course, he returned it with a nicely worded note explaining why he had decided to do so. Had Dave accepted the gift, he might have been hard pressed to display objectivity during the investigation. A gift of a bottle of whisky, then an invitation to lunch at the most expensive restaurant, then a loan of a vehicle, then the receipt of cash, and one becomes utterly corrupt.

A traffic cop stopped Dave while driving his car on Mandela Avenue. He said to Dave that he noticed that he (Dave) had a fancy car but tomorrow was his (the cop’s) birthday. Dave’s reaction was: happy birthday, full stop. Another traffic cop stopped him on the Mahaicony road. The poor guy did know how to ask for a “raise”. He kept mumbling, and when he realized that Dave was not responding, he allowed him to go. But these are small acts of corruption compared with the grand schemes that have a debilitating effort on society.

Say no to corruption. Get involved. Volunteer, donate or become a member of the Transparency Institute of Guyana, if you want to contribute to the fight against corruption. Visit our web site at www.transparencygy.org for more information. We are located at the Private Sector Commission Building, 157 Waterloo Street, Georgetown, Guyana; telephone (592) 231 9586; email

infotransparencygy@gmail.com.

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