P2P bribery Sri Lanka – a quick overview


Person to Person (P2) Bribes are a fact of life in any third world country. Sri Lanka is no exception though it is not openly culturally  accepted as with is it with the neighbours. Lately though it feels that it is taken with the usual vut to du shrug. Particularly given the profusion of bribes stories I  have heard. Perhaps its just ignorant me – who has so far live a charmed life of never having to bribe anyone (or wiggling out of such situation).

A big factor of this type of “corruption” is the classic combination of poorly paid (state) employees operating in a regulation rich, infrastructure poor environment. The only asset they have is an ability to make things more or less inconvent for you. Inevitably, this ability can be influenced in your favour for a fee. A fee which enables them to either make ends meet, buy some quality booze or both (difficult things to do on a government salary).

There are three types of person to person bribes. All involve paying someone to:

  1. actually do their job and execute a legitimate procedure
  2. not use their position to hurt you (essentially a mugging by a person of situational authority – David Blacker has grim example of this type)
  3. to do something in your favour that is illegal.

At a day to day level, most people end up paying the first two kinds of bribes. Sometimes, you might be forced to resort to a type 3 bribe due to some dire situation such as a failure of the regular procedures/infrastructure.

Government offices where you have to get some sort of official document usually requires a type 1 bribe. One land registry office (forgot which one) is said to be particularly bad. From my own experience, the Sri Lankan passport office  and ID card offices are significant acceptions. They’re comparatively high level of efficiency felt almost un Sri Lankan. Of courses others will have different opinions. Cases such as the LTTE buying id cards in bulk constitues “high level” bribery.

Naturally there are fuzzy grey areas and overlap between bribe types. Bureaucarctic hassles to are typically a means of demanding an income supplementing bribe. So are overly nitpicky application of regulations. Increasing bureaucratic demands over increasingly minor things is a general signal to pay up.

Sri Lanka’s finest are the most frequently mentioned in bribe stories you are likely to hear. However a “user fee” in the less visible worlds of Sri Lankan life, keeps the formal and informal economy shuffling along. There are also ways of getting around having to pay bribes as well, But all that is another post (coming soon or more realistically whenever I get around to it).

7 comments

  1. An interesting post Cerno, particularly the 3 types of bribe. I often think of the differences between life here in the UK and in SL and I think the way bribery and corruption fits into everyday life is a big one. In SL it’s part of life and I think you’re an exception if you’re not touched by it in one way or another. Here it’s the other way and you have to “opt in”. Most people don’t really see it.

    Also I think in the UK there’s an invisible but thick black line between cash and favours. It’s often fine to buy someone lunch but would be a gross error of judgement to give them the cash.

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  2. RD: I never thought it bribery that way before. A good way to sum up the difference. I think I’ll use that Lakbima style😉 as some point. Now that you mention it wasn’t there some bru ha ha about cash for peerages or something like that some time ago? Maybe it was when that earnest sounding fellow was prime minister…

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  3. Cerno Mate….did ya forget to mention the most notorious Bribe takers in lanka…….Customs ? They take theeeee cake for that award ! Just ask ltte !(planes,trains,automobiles etc.)

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  4. Good post. I love the way you can structure even bribe taking..however I think you have missed an important aspect of bribery and that is the cultural context of the bribe giver. In our culture (I am making a huge generalisation here) we like to say thank you and will often use a gift as part of our completion of a transaction (specifically referring to the origins of No 1 above). I often feel that this good naturedness has been subsequently abused by some opportunists and become what it is today. in Thailand it is absolutely imperative to leave small tips so that those in the service industry understand that you appreciate what has been provided..

    RD – corruption is omni present even in squeeky clean Singapore and tarnished UK. Just look at the jokers in the House of Commons and what they claim for expenses. a good friend of mine who is an ex-officer of the Military Police in HM Armed forces was telling about the amount bribery and corruption cases he came across in the armed forces – you would have thought it was 3rd world country by his description. I even know of a GST avoidance scheme operated in Singapore…

    anyway good post..

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  5. Maf – Agreed, on the corruption being present in Sing and the UK bit. But, I do think the way it’s intrinsic to everyday life is very different in Lanka compared to the UK.

    The MP expenses thing is a total farce over here right now, makes them all, with a few exceptions, look like a wunch of bankers!

    I think though that the boundaries are in differing places in the UK compared with SL. For example here (UK) you’d never get a situation when someone would get nicked for speeding but be able to get off it by paying a bribe to the police officer, whereas in Lanka that’s very normal.

    Though I spend quite some time there (as you know!) I don’t know enough about Singapore to pass a knowledgable opinion on the situation there I’m afraid.

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  6. Rajarata: Quite true. I left out customs is a whole another world – which I’ll cover in a post to come.

    maf:Thank you🙂 Never thought that type 1 bribes originated from tipping! or of the cultural context in that way.Curious to here what bribery is like in Singapore. Favours than cash?

    RD: Quite true about the way bribe get into the daily life. I guess the third world you get the corruption just gets more circumspect.

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