Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Would You Ever Pay a Bribe?

Would you ever pay a bribe?

If you're like most westerners, you've never really had to think about it.  You've probably never been asked for one.  The temptation has never been there.  It's a non-issue.

Consider yourself blessed.

For the majority of the world, the giving and receiving of bribes is commonplace.  Happens every day, on every socio-economic level, in just about every aspect of society.

Imagine your child's public elementary school teacher requiring him to bring a dollar to school every day, or else he won't be allowed to attend class.

Imagine your high school student being required to pay off her teacher if she expects to pass her exams.  Or worse, perform a sexual favor.

Imagine running a printing business, but you never win bids unless you are willing to do the job under the table, tax free.

It's complicated.  Public employees are often grossly underpaid.  Sometimes there's a fine line between a bribe and a tip.  In America, we give tips after we have received good service; so is there a huge difference in giving a tip in order to receive good service?  In some cultures, it's seen as the same thing.

So where is the ethical line?  These are difficult waters to navigate, that most in the West don't really need to think about.  But for us, regular life.  While living here, we have been asked for bribes, subtlety and not-so-subtlety, in a multitude of situations, more than I can count.

Gil and I, from the very beginning of our time in Tanzania, have been rock solid in our refusal to pay bribes or contribute to any kind of corruption.  For any reason, in any situation.  This has meant that we have sometimes spent a half hour arguing with some sort of official.  It's meant that once I spent an entire day trying to pay a traffic ticket and receive a receipt for it.  (I could have paid the officer who pulled me over about $5 and been done in 2 minutes.)

We don't buy pirated movies, even though they are available on every street corner in Dar (and the only kind of movies available here).  When I am quoted a price on a piece of furniture, and then told that if I want a receipt, I will have to pay an additional 20% (the amount of sales tax), I always insist on a receipt.  (And depending on what kind of mood I'm in, give them a little lecture as well.)

As Christians, we should be absolutely committed to integrity.  But is there ever a time and place when paying bribes is justified?  What about Oskar Schindler, rescuing Jews?  He paid lots of bribes.  What about the people who are smuggling Bibles into North Korea, who regularly bribe border guards?  Is that justified?  There's probably no easy answer.

Finding out about the American illegal international adoptions (often by Christians) happening in Tanzania shook me to my core.  It's been a long time since something made me so angry.  There is no way this is happening without bribery or other forms of corruption.  And I am fighting it this week, by writing personal letters to agencies and families, urging them to reconsider.

Yet I'm sure if I were face to face with these families, or with case workers from these agencies, they would justify what they were doing.  Isn't it worth it to give a child a better life?  What hope do these children have?  What if they end up on the street?  What if they have a condition they could die from in this country?  Don't the ends justify the means?

No.  For me, this is an easy answer.

And the difference between this situation and Nazi Germany, or North Korea, is that I still have hope for Tanzania and it's government. If paying bribes in those situations were justified, it's because bribes were used as a means of bringing down a government.  Yes, there is plenty of corruption going on here.  But I believe in the future of this country, and Tanzania's problems could be helped significantly by eliminating corruption, not contributing to it.  Tanzania has adoption laws, and their goal is to protect children, so there is no reason not to follow those laws.  Corruption brings down governments.  Corruption breeds death.  Rescuing a few children, at the expense of millions of others, is just not worth it.  

Would I love to see international adoption happening in this country?  Yes, especially for special needs children.  Does a lot still need to change?  Is there still room for reform?  Of course.  But reform is not going to happen by enabling more corruption.

We Americans wring our hands about poverty and child-trafficking and orphan care.  Let's not make the problem worse by trying to help in the wrong way.

If you ever hear of people pursuing a Tanzanian adoption who are not living here, please put them in touch with me.  

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