Thursday, December 28, 2006

The etiquette of bribery.

"The Economist" has a free article on the etiquette of bribery.

Anyone who has given, or been around the greasing of palms, has noticed that the cash is not usually given to the corrupt official, or a person with the upper hand, like one would pay a salesperson at a cash register. There is usually a special language indicating that a bribe is needed, and an etiquette of the way to transfer the money. In Armenia, sometimes we are told that 'lavoutyoun' (an act of kindness) or 'magharich' (a tip) is needed. In case of the traffic police, the communication is non-verbal. When you are stopped, you know what to do.

Here is an excerpt from the article describing a newbie asking for a bribe in Georgia - obviously, he needed some experience.

A sweetener to a traffic cop is often placed in the ticket-book that is handed to the driver. Parag Khanna, who is writing a book about countries on the edge of the rich world that are trying to get rich themselves, describes a bribe-taker he spotted in Georgia who he was sure was a rookie. Why? The scrawny young soldier, forgoing any subtleties, merely rubbed his fingers together in an age-old gesture.

There is also a description of corruption in the US as well - the fees paid to journalists by the government to produce favorable news, the donations by the lobbying organizations to lawmakers, tips paid to personnel at restaurants to get a table without waiting. As a matter of fact, bribery is institutionalized in the restaurant industry. It is necessary to pay a tip to the waiting staff. Otherwise they may spit in your food the next time.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Education system bribes.

Higher education
Since during the Soviet times, the higher education institutions have been corrupt. A large chunk of the lecturers would accept 'gifts' in order to give a passing grade to students. That was after the student was accepted. Getting into a university or another higher education establishment required gifts as well.

A certain percentage of students would get in based on their academic achievements because otherwise the whole concept of the educational system would collapse. The rest were admitted based on the students' relatives' connections and/or gifts. This was more prevalent in institutions that were lower on the scale of social importance such as the the ones producing teachers (Mankavarjakan) or foreign language experts. And since the majority of the students were female, it was a good opportunity for the socially ambitious parents to make sure that their daughter had a diploma and grab a better son-in-law.

This continues to be true currently as well. It is more widespread and openly acknowledged by the government, and everybody knows about it thanks to the free press.

Other schools
The lower education system did not have bribes as such but gifts like flowers or chocolates were acceptable in exchange for a better grade. But at the time it is not only acceptable but it is required - the kids have to give gifts to their teachers and there are well known monetary amounts for each event. Of course, the parents do not like the state of the affairs but everybody continues to comply with the system. Unlike higher education, the secondary education involves all the layers of the society, and the more socially vulnerable families have to make sacrifices in order to afford the participation of their kids in such gift giving occasions.

The corruption does not end here. There is no concept of uniform dress code in the public school system (probably in protest to the Soviet system). This puts pressure for kids to keep up with their peers. In a lot of cases, the teachers, instead of curbing such competition, actually encourage it by paying more attention to the better dressed students.

It is unfortunate that these kind of teachers are allowed to teach the kids but they are the product of the system (see the mention of Mankavarjakan above).

Please feel free to comment with your experiences.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Customs bribes

Quite a few Armenians make their living by importing goods from Turkey, the Arab countries or Georgia. Since these usually are small time traders, they are vulnerable to the customs officers. If they pay the necessary import duties, they will have little or no profit from their trade as they won't be able to compete with the big boys ( who already have economies of scale with bribery costs). So these small traders pay their share of bribes to the customs police.

Working within the law does not make sense unless everybody else does it. Operating within the law is discouraged by the government as witnessed by the recent prosecution of the coffee importing company management who refused to pay bribes.

Please feel free to comment on your experiances with and the traditions of customs police bribery.

Tax police bribes

A large chunk of the Armenian economy exists beyond the boundaries of the law. It is primarily done to avoid the numerous regulations (and the paperwork which normally involve bribe payouts as well).

One of the major reasons for the so called 'underground economy' is to avoid paying the income taxes, and the employee social security taxes. The tax police let this happen because it is beneficial to them since they know who is who and does what and how much taxes are being evaded. They let everybody be happy for a 'fee'. Sometimes they crack down if there has been a publicized government effort to eradicate tax evasion. Needless to say, the big boys are never touched.

Please feel free to comment on your experiences with and the traditions of the tax police bribery.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Judicial system bribes

To tell you the truth, I have not encountered problems involving the judicial system in Armenia. Based on the rumors, though, it has been one of the more corrupt government bodies since the Soviet times. These rumors were about the state prosecutors (the 'datakhaz') as well as the judges (the 'datavor').

Your comments are welcome.

Traffic stop bribes.

The bribe for a traffic stop by a cop is a 1,000 dram bribe in Armenia. Always have a few 500 dram notes with you. Once stopped, put the 1000 drams in your driver's license, exit the car and approach the cop. Hand the license to the cop. He will open it, look at it and return it to you. In a David Blaine style, the 1,000 drams will no longer be in the license booklet.
This entry is meant to keep the public informed about the latest trends in Armenia. This will be useful for the visitors to know how much of a bribe the circumstances dictate to be paid to the traffic police also known as 'guyishnik'-s.
Please use the comments section for your experiences.