Bribes: how much are you paying these days?

No I’m not in hot water fishing for bribe prices — just being the dementedly curious imbecile that I am. Bribes are the uninvited user fees of freedom in the scarcity riven third world. It is generally seen a sellers market — you don’t have much flexibility in haggling over prices. However the situation is not necessarily one sided. As with any market, savvy price aware consumers can bring some sort of balance however incrementally. In an exercise in consumer awareness I’d like to poll the kottu of the Sri Lankan blogosphere with the question how much do you pay in bribes?

It is an intentionally loaded question subject to considerable moral and legal judgement. I am not asking anyone to confess details. Just what they have “heard” waiting in the curry of Sri Lankan life.

Paranoid commentors who want increased anonymity might want to use something like I won’t reveal whatever info I have of you unless faced with a warrant, a gun to the head, threat of imprisonment (irrespective of legality) or other immediate acts of violent unpleasantness. I hope you do understand. The best I can say it that this post is not some sort of sting operation by the Commission to Investigate Allegation of Bribery or Corruption – aka the “Bribery Commission” (which btw is a REAL government body whose attention I’m not seeking by linking directly).

Of course if I wanted to be scientific and statistical, I would plough through the wealth of information put out by transparency international. However an intentionally unscientific approach like this is far easier and offers a chance for a differently interesting discussion.

The circumstances of third world bribery is rarely clear cut. For those new to the subject, there’s my overview of low level bribes in Sri Lanka. There are two types of bribes that the “buyer” (payer) has control over. The first are bribes you pay to get someone to actually do their job. The other is a bribe paid to get something illegal done or get around regulations.

However the “seller” (person getting the bribe) might be actively manipulating rules/regulations to extract bribes in the first place. You might be a situation where the consequences of not paying the bribe could be very dire. Such as securing vital documents from a labyrinthian government bureaucracy that is barely paid. This is a slippery slope that leads to a type 3 bribe which is essentially a mugging — where a person uses their authority over the victim to create a bureaucratic mugging.

If spending time and/or enduring discomfort is not your thing paying your way through is the tempting option. Particularly when legal procedures aimed at preventing bribery might either be mired in a non functional bureaucracy or internally squashed as part of the racket.

In situations where you do have room to manoeuvre, you have some option of picking a price unless a particular figure is demanded. Offering a price too low may enrage the “seller” while paying too much might make you seem like an easy target ripe for the picking.

Negotiating bribes is not my realm of expertise. So far I’ve lived a charmed life by somehow manoeuvring myself out of situations even before it turns towards a bribe demand situation. I certainly wouldn’t advise getting advice such matters of the internet. Key factors of the negotiation are the personalities involved, the politics of the institution, and contacts you have within it. A majority of people in Sri Lanka’s blogging classes has someone in their circle who knows about this type of thing (or knows someone who can locate such a person). Consult them about negotiation tactics of your particular situation.

Always know that there is an element of risk when faced with a demand for a bribe. It could range from eternal indebtedness to a corrupt official to, jail to what ever misfortune your imagination can cook up. If you can the best option is to avoid having to pay one. If you have little or no choice, having an idea of the prices can be very handy. So I hope you contribute your dollop of wisdom through the comment box below. Please leave out the specifics like names, etc.


4 thoughts on “Bribes: how much are you paying these days?

  1. well here goes (over the last couple of years):
    In Sri Lanka:
    Traffic Police: usually to get over some minor infraction and out of Colombo (to avoid having to go and get the license later) – between LKR 500 – 1000
    parking attendant on/around galle road to allow me to park where I strictly shouldn’t be allowed to: LKR 50-100
    Driving license renewal – LKR 500 to “insure” I passed 🙂 (even though I have been for 23+ years)
    local grama seva: in order to get my address validated at my parents house for my NIC: LKR 1000

    In Thailand:
    Customs official to allow me to bring in my golf clubs -suposedly because they were new and still in the box – THB 1000

    I probably pay about 100% above what is required because I can’t speak Sinhala properly – at least this what I learn from anecdotal stories from friends.


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