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:
- actually do their job and execute a legitimate procedure
- not use their position to hurt you (essentially a mugging by a person of situational authority – David Blacker has grim example of this type)
- 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).