FIGHTING CORRUPTION: “Can we each start with ourselves?” [Archives:1998/23/Business & Economy]

June 8 1998

Yemen Times often writes about corruption, which is a real problem in our country. Yemen is indeed among the corrupt nations of the world. But I would like to clarify that not all of the corruption is at the top, as the Yemen Times would want us to believe!
With all due respect, it starts with our palms. You grease mine, and I grease yours, (or in English I scratch your back, and you scratch mine). Bribe is too much of an accusing word, ‘Rashwa’ money is more like a confetti-vocabulary term, ‘Backsheesh’ is more suitable. If we rank as being among the top hundred most corrupt nations in the world, it is because you and I are corrupt.
Corruption is not only about kickbacks or leaked tenders; it is also all what you and I consider passable. Sure there are those appointed to lead and loot, but at our level, things are not pristine either. We are all merry makers in the bribe dance.
We want the birth certificate without going through the entire long drawn process, so we slip in a hundred rials. We want our children admitted into the best school so we give the headmaster a couple of hundred. We want a driving license without having the test, so we hand some money over. We want a telephone line connected to our house, so the phone man gets a few thousand. We want the rubbish at the front of our shop cleared regularly, so the man who is already being paid to do it gets an extra fifty a week. We want the sewage repaired which broke in the front of our house, so we open our wallets and when a ‘murur’ (traffic warden) catches us so we slip a hundred or two under the driving license.
We buy the better bed in the hospitals, we buy three-phase meters, we literally buy doctors, clerks in court, teachers in schools, judges, journalists. We buy the truth. We ask the price of what we want and buy it because we have money muscle, meaning ruthlessly robbing those who do not.
It amounts to a despicable kind of domination. Have money, will survive; have pocket power will thrive. We deny others of what belongs to them too, only because we have the clout of the cash. Principles no longer govern our life, the fluidity of cash does. Our forefathers’ values, which once had safeguarded us from the sewage of society, are frozen.
It is a big-time cancer, bigger than we can ever perceive because this climate, this scenario is what we are, leaving behind a legacy for the next generation. Our children and our families, how are they ever going to clean it up? Every dark deed has the potency to fuel another dark one. The smallest acts contribute to the larger, gloomier picture and it is a very ugly picture. And we are all responsible, or at least most of us.
I know of a man who gave his license away when he was stopped by a ‘muroor’, and I know of a woman who did not pay a couple of hundred to the headmaster. I know of many people who will wait their turn, meekly muttering about injustice, but stoically refusing to contribute to the bonfire of bribes. They are few, but we can aspire to their astute sense of financial integrity.
I do see the often used argument: “If we do not do it, someone else will. And how can that change the world?” You can never change the world, but you can change your world, and that will slowly change the whole world.
Now, two kids where at the beach, when a wonderful wave threw up a fish. The youngest ran up to the fish quickly and threw it back into the water before it died. “How can saving one fish, make a difference?” the other kid asked. “It did make a difference to that fish,” the other replied.
Righteousness, like love, has the power to renew us.
By Abdulkhaliq Mubarak Said Al-Jabry
Seiyun, Yemen.