OUTLOOK — By Majed Al Sulaimany —
► The eyes of the people are watching you! — Sierra Leone: fight against corruption banner
► God cursed the one who pays a bribe, the one who takes it and the mediator between the two. — Islamic Hadith (narrations)
► There is a local East African famous song that talks of ‘difficulties and problems’ of travelling and so many eye-openers that you will meet in life, especially when you travel around the world!
► The way that some officials in public places behave does makes one wonder aloud if they are after bribes?
► If these same officials were at the Heavens' Gates, no one will get into Heaven! — My late father
I was travelling in this Far Eastern country where as I was coming out of a toilet this old man gave me a towel to dry my hands. I noticed that there were no tissues or towels in the toilet area when I was shocked by the man who asked me for a bakhshish — a decent polite word meaning ‘he wanted a bribe’ from me for using the towel!
Similarly, in one of the places I had visited in East Africa — I wanted to travel to another town to meet some of my relatives who were staying there — I went to the airlines travel agency to book myself a flight. The man wanted to see what kind of passport I had. I told him that though I speak the home lingo very well I was carrying a 'foreign passport'. This was none of his business on the outset, as I was going to pay in dollars anyway, which I had told him in the beginning. But he insisted on seeing my passport — which was irrelevant as the place was within the country anyway — even if there was an international airport there the flights were internal and domestic!
Being bull-headed and resistant I was saying to myself that I will not pay bribe for this ticket at any costs! My desperate relatives who were keen to see me told me that it was the 'norm' to give something (a bribe?) if I really wanted to travel. The man pretended to go inside, he told me ‘to check' the passenger manifesto. Sure enough he came back to say that the plane was ‘full’ — even the First Class! So I decided to go back rather than pay the bribe. I said to myself: I never received a bribe in my life and for certain I will not pay one either.
Eventually I had to give him $20 against everything I held dear as my principles and ethics, because my late uncle was blaming me that I really did not want to see them and that I was just using the excuse of not paying the bribe for not wanting to see them!
Everyone is doing it so what is the big deal? This is not Oman, my late uncle said. Am I not your blood too? Remember this was a long time ago — now the tables are slowly turning with even famous people being singled out in the press!
When I boarded the plane it was half empty and there were only two people in the first class cabin! The air hostesses kept on insisting me to take more sandwiches and drinks. I was not sure whether they were doing their job professionally and ethically or perhaps looking for some bakhshish too! I was not surprised when I learnt later on that the airline went bankrupt — with such corrupt officials that was no surprise!
My uncle had given me 'his best car' for me to use while there. As we were returning home late at night, this traffic police on his motorbike started chasing me. He wanted to book me because one of my rear car lights was off. So he was making a big deal that vehicles behind me may think there was a motorcycle ahead and not a car which could result in a nasty road accident.
This was no joking stuff because I was really scared and I had never before been booked for any traffic offence, but my relative was cool and asked me in Arabic to give him some local money to give the man! There was ‘another bargaining’ when he saw my international driving licence — as I did not know it was required to be locally stamped as well!
Finally he took what I had — a few low denomination dollars I had with me, in addition to the ‘bigger’ local currency. He waved us off cheerfully saying if anyone else stops you on the way please tell them you already saw him (nick name)! A few days later I returned to Oman — holidays or no holidays — because I had enough!
If you are an avowed reader of mine you may notice that I had talked about these cases before and more after I went for early retirement in 1998!
Last week I was really astounded — to say the least — to see that there are many cases awaiting persecution and some based on corruption allegations in public offices. Frankly, I would like them to include the public sector and company officials’ behaviours and attitudes too in their dealings.
And for that matter even other private sector companies too, the family run ones and their bosses and owners. We see always the same big companies getting the same big contracts day in and day out!
In all my writing career, now over nine years, I have yet to see more of the senior columnists who have been to a public offices saying they have come back 'happy and fulfilled'. My first articles were Bureaucracy (and Red Tape) in The Public Sector! That was one of the articles that had ‘launched’ my writing career and which came to my salvation ‘when the chips were really down’!
The truth is this — there are still some offices in the public sector that to this day one is ‘still scared stiff’ to visit — because anything can happen to you and your application — despite all the empty rhetoric and all the websites and call centres!
You would imagine that things would move faster and quicker with modernity but the poor citizen is still facing great problems and hardships — as if we have not seen or noticed what has happened or learnt our lessons. Even infringing on personal freedom and liberty and loss of basic human rights!
It took one Tunisian who not happy with the public office reception to set off the Arab Spring uprisings the world over. Things need to change fast for the common good and benefits!
May The Good Lord protect and preserve us all — Amin