Egyptians, especially the educated ones, have been citing corruption as the bane of our times. Corruption is at the base of all evils. Corruption is why we have so many terrorists still on the loose wreaking havoc on our security. Corruption is why we have so many youth easily mislead by the Muslim Brotherhood into thinking that they are pious people. Corruption is why we cannot get the education we want, the job we want or the medical treatment we want. In short, all our problems stem from corruption.
When asked what the solution should be and how can we stem such corruption, the answers are varied but consistently vague. Improve education. Change management. Improve the economy. Change the Minister. Change the Government.
All these “solutions” are nothing more than a list of the effects of corruption which are making our lives intolerable. To try to pin point solutions for our problems we have to at least properly understand and define our problems. Only then can we tackle them with any chance of actually solving them.
So what is corruption? Is it someone in authority who lines his/her pockets at the expense of others? Is it someone who does not do his job and gets away with it? Is it someone who uses his influence, who lies and bribes to get what does not belong to him? Is it someone who cheats to promote a false idea? Is it someone who takes a bribe to ignore a broken law? Is it someone who takes a bribe to do his job properly?
It is all the above and much, much more.
Such acts, if thought about without bias, will suddenly appear to have one thing in common. Each and every act of above said corruption necessitates the participation of two parties, not only participation, but also the active cooperation of both. So those Egyptians who are bemoaning the prevalence of corruption are those who actually perpetuate it through active participation.
For example: If I need to renew my driver’s license, the first thing I would do is to find someone high up in authority in that field to help me get it done. Thus, asking someone in authority to use his influence to get a job done. Then I would go there, armed with his recommendation, to the manager in charge, thus, pressuring him to get him to do his job. Once there, I am taken to sit in an air conditioned room, given my choice of beverage to drink and asked for whatever documents that need renewal. These are given to a very junior member of that entity to run about and get all the paperwork done for me. Of course I pay whatever fees are involved, but I also pay that person a gratuity in proportion to my appreciation of his assistance. That is a bribe. What is even worse is that if my license is expired, whatever needs to be done to get it re-instated is done without bothering me, as long as I pay the “gratuity” at the end that would cover such a contingent.
In short, I have participated actively in corrupting so many government employees. I have used nepotism, I have pressured others and have outright bribed others to get a job done and for those who should know better, to look the other way where some infractions of the law have occurred.
Now in this scenario, who is corrupt? We all are. I, by using all the influence and money at my disposal to get a job that might not be strictly legal, done without hassle or accountability; and they, by actually accepting to do their jobs, or turn a blind eye, in expectation of a reward.
So how do we change that? How can we get things done properly and without hassle or corruption?
First of all we have to be aware of how we ourselves are behaving and stop contributing to this corruption.
Secondly we have to be proactive in fighting that sort of behaviour, in ourselves and in others.
This is not easy at all. Who would willingly give up an easy – universally accepted – method of getting a difficult chore done in favour of one that is “right”? Very, very few. Still, if we do not start with ourselves we shall never get to the place where corruption can be stemmed or at least reduced to a minimum.
A few months back I had to renew my car license and went through the hassle of doing it myself, on my own. It took me four hours of real hell to get it done, and by that time I was cursing the day I was born. But I did it without a single bribe, without any nepotism or pressure of any sort being exerted. A few days later after recovering both physically and emotionally from that traumatic experience, I was quite proud of myself.
This gave me insight into the problems of getting official paperwork done easily and quickly. The solution is streamlining. But this needs people to be educated in how to do it as well as be willing to do it, or if resistant to change, be obliged to do it for fear of reprisal.
President Sisi had once mentioned in one of his speeches that computerisation is part of the solution. I fully agree. But it will take time to train the people, both those doing the work and those seeking the service, to fall in line with the requirements needed for the accomplishment of such services with minimum human intervention and therefore minimum opportunities for bribery and exertion of influence.
The basic requirement though, and the very first one needed, is the self awareness of each and every Egyptian of his/her own behaviour and how it contributes to the prevalent corruption, and the commitment towards changing such behaviour.
20 August 2015