Staff at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan international airport are being issued trousers without pockets in an effort to eliminate bribe-taking. Nepal’s anti-corruption body said there had been a dramatic increase in public complaints against bribery and it was felt that trousers without pockets would help the authorities “curb the irregularities.”
Sadly, bribes are quite common in many parts of the world, although often – as in Kathmandu – they tend to be aimed at locals rather than tourists. However, that doesn’t mean that visitors cannot be subjected to this special treatment, and when they are it does present a bit of a challenge.
It’s all fine and well to tut-tut at home and say you would never give a bribe no matter what the occasion or location, but it’s completely different when face-to-face with someone of authority, wearing a uniform, in a strange land – or strange language – who has the power to make your life difficult. It takes a strong person to say ‘no’ and stand their ground. Or perhaps just a foolish or naïve one.
Not for one moment do I advocate giving bribes and certainly in my own surroundings, I would never contemplate it. We all know that bribery is wrong and that paying a bribe perpetuates the cycle, but no matter how distasteful it can be, declining to pay one can land you in serious trouble and a decision must be very carefully considered. Of course, offering a bribe when one hasn’t been solicited is considerably worse!
I have been in taxis in Cancun, Nairobi and Zanzibar and stopped by police. Upon command, the driver handed over his license with a small fold of notes sticking innocently from the corner. The officer checked the license, returned it – devoid of the cash – and waved us forward already looking for more victims. The exchange was made surreptitiously so as not to upset the tourist. But in remote Zambia, the tourists were the target.
It was late afternoon and we were approaching a very long, low bridge that spanned a languid river. A lone soldier waved us to a halt on the approach and walked menacingly up to the cab of our truck with a rifle slung over one shoulder.
“You can’t cross” he said severely. “Only one vehicle is allowed on the bridge at a time.”
Straining our eyes forward, we could see another vehicle broken down on the side of the approach road on the far bank.
“He’s not on the bridge” we attempted to explain, as friendly as possible.
“Yes he is” said our armed companion. “You can’t cross.”
We explained that we were trying to reach Lusaka before it was dark and asked if there was anything at all that he could do to assist us. He looked inside the truck, then back at us.
“I am a hungry man,” he said, matter-of-factly, stretching his arms in the air and arching his back leisurely.
Two tins of beans and a couple of cigarettes later, we were driving onto the bridge with our new friend cheerily waving good-bye and wishing us a good trip.
Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009