When my President was asked on Focus on Africa whether he had ever taken a bribe, he was first dodgy with his answer, but he finally answered in the negative. This episode has sparked conversations around bribery and corruption in Ghana’s media. To add to this trending topic, I want to explore what compels citizens to pay bribe in the first place. I have been faced with many temptations to pay a bribe to get access to what I require. I have realized that this is this is mostly the case in public offices where systems do not work, or information is just not readily available. Interestingly, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that some of these barriers are intentionally created by the public servants to sustain their business model. Unfortunately, the checks-and-balances in my country are mute when such greedy public servants initiate such strategies.
There was a time in my life when I paid a bribe. Well, it didn’t seem like I was presented with too many options.
I know sha! It wasn’t supposed to happen. I should have resisted this urge in the same way I resist bribing the Ghana Police whenever they stop me on the way with their ‘Bossu, today is Friday’ greeting. But this episode was urgent. A whole lot more urgent. Think of it as a ‘my water just broke’ type emergency – something had to be done to save the situation.
I was expected in London at the end of that month but unfortunately for me I needed to renew my passport to be able to honor that commitment. I bought a form for Ghs 100, the equivalent of $25 (this sounds like a fortune, considering the fact that I only paid Ghs 5 ($1.25) for my previous passport about 8 years earlier) which ordinarily should have qualified me for an express service (delivery in two weeks or less). Apparently, that fee meant nothing to the passport office staff. So I had to express the express if I really needed the passport in the 2-week period. So yea, I paid a bribe (aka facilitation fee) of Ghs 500 ($125) extra to an officer who is paid a monthly salary to do the very job I was paying him extra for. He pocketed the money and gave me no receipt. Of course such payments do not come with receipts, and they almost always collect cash, just so they don’t appear in the next series of Panama Papers. I got the passport within the promised period, which means it was possible to generate a passport in less than a month after all!!
Why did I pay? Well first of all, the sight of the passport office in Accra, sends shivers down my spine. There are scores of queues and you get lost in the disordered chaos once you step on the compound. Secondly, I needed guaranteed delivery after all the horrific stories I had heard about how long it took some of my colleagues to get a passport (4 months average + at least two to three trips to the passport office to follow-up). Lastly, I feel it is simply inhumane for any state to expect its citizens to spend the whole day with goats in the yard just to have access to a national document that will make regional and International travel possible. Abroad is not Mars!
I wish the passport office were more organised and the process was less confusing. I wish I could trust the state to take my Ghs 100 ($25) fess, and issue me with a passport within two weeks (assuming my application isn’t queried). I wish there was a desk at the passport office I could go to and ask questions about the process if I had any without being shouted at. Lastly, I wish I could just sit home and finalize this process online.
Have you paid or taken a bribe before? What made you do so and what do you wish could be done to avoid another occurrence? Over to you!