Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Bribe or Facilitation?

I have always been very respectful when approaching and or crossing the “yellow line” at international airports. In some South American airports, signs remind you to “Respect the Yellow Line”. This is the line that demarcates international space from domestic space. (My interpretation). I soon learnt that people who work for Immigration and Customs leave their sense of humor at home. Rightly so, and most probably more nowadays. (My international travel days have passed).
I overheard two youngsters bragging about how they managed to “by-pass” a customs official at an international airport recently and this irritated me. Don’t play with fire.
Anyhow, a few years ago I was entering an African country, by road, and presented myself and papers at Immigration. I am a perfectionist at this. I make sure that I have what I need. Not always possible, but I really get everything. Oftentimes I get pissed off when people jam up the system by not having the correct or incomplete documentation. This in turn pisses the officials off and all and sundry have to suffer.
Right, I presented my papers to a jovial, friendly official who went through the motions. This was not the first time I had used this border post, and always a problem.
“ I am afraid your passport does not have the correct number of pages”
“ Cannot be,” says I
“ Go to the counter and check” is the friendly reply.
I move to the counter and check the pages, nothing missing, but I knew that. I also knew I was missing something. Another friendly chap, who happened to be holding up the counter next to me, wanted to know what my problem was, and I told him.
“Ahhh….” Says he, “put 50 bucks into your passport and give it to the Man”
“Ok.” My hesitant reply. This is a bribe, and serious shit if this is mistaken for a bribe that it is.
I present my documentation.
“Ahhhh… I see your passport has the correct number of pages”
Bang, bang, stamp, stamp and a shuffle and I am ready to go.
On the way out I greet the counter guy, and said all was OK, thanks for his help, but I was concerned about the “payment” of the 50 bucks.
“No ways” he smiled “ We know you by now, that was not a bribe, that was a facilitation fee.”
He explained that a facilitation fee was “payable” if there was no problem, no further hassles, like unpacking your car. A bribe on the other hand is different.
From then on a facilitation fee was on my check list.
Not the correct thing to do? It facilitated my life.


Hawk said...

Interesting post! I came via Takeshi san's recommendation! I like your diversity. A curious portal to visit!

Adding you to my reader and roll too!

Have a great one, whatever that may look like for you!

starlily said...

Traveling to new countries is often a real eye opener! We had a similar experience at the airport of a small country where we were expected to buy our plane tickets 'again'... Thanks for sharing this interesting story!