Friday, October 23, 2009

honesty

An anonymous commenter recently asked me to write about corruption. S/he is apparently quite dismayed by his/her government's lack of accountability, their lack of fiscal responsibility, failure to make decisions based on what is best for the country.

Dear anonymous, I'm afraid I'm a bit too tolerant of corruption to critique it in the manner that you'd like. I tend to see government corruption as something we assume will happen, and we just do the best we can to improve the situation. Sometimes this means campaigning for the government to clean up its act. But usually, I see the solution in citizens taking responsibility for their own life and desires. For example, as you yourself suggested, start a private international investment enterprise in Kosovo. I think we'll all be happier if we don't wait for our government to live up to our expectations. We should either fight for it, or just do our own thing. Or, even better, do both.

However, your comments are timely as I've been pondering the concept of honesty. I am now living in a country of broken promises. On the macro scale, rural communities report that International NGOs or their government have promised them irrigation assistance, but never delivered. Without apologies.

In my own life, a contractor promised to send a bulldozer to clear out my future parking area (for a fee) but didn't show up. A young lady promised to clean our house three times a week but didn't show up. My landlord fired the contractor who was building my bathroom, but told me that the contractor asked to leave because his father was ill. The printing company we dealt with at work committed to making 2000 glossy postcards for 35 cents each, but instead made them matte and charged more - taking an extra month to deliver them. I could go on.

Lying is so endemic here, and so obvious. But people get offended when I call them on their lie. When the tel-com company wouldn't install my internet, they got defensive after I reminded them. When no one at work failed to follow up on the construction at my house, those responsible just ignored me when I reminded them. If they can pass the blame, they do. If not, they ignore the problem or blatantly deny it happened.

I am trying to ponder now how this culture applies to the government, to policy, to corruption. There is no accountability in the culture: when the bulldozers never came, my landlord's family quickly resigned itself to clearing the land themselves. We're actually still waiting for the postcards at work, and we'll just keep waiting and hoping that eventually they'll be ready. I'm very glad I only paid a 5 dollar downpayment on my bedroom dresser, because three weeks later it's still not ready and the carpenter's phone is out of range. I could have lost much more.

Instead, accountability takes the form of moving on. I suppose I shall count my relatively small losses, and find someone else to make me a dresser. I eventually talked to a friend of a friend who was higher up at the Internet company, and they started the process over again for me. The bathroom contractor was sent on his way and someone else stepped in. He's the one who will get paid.

What there is not a lack of here is other options. There may be only one way to do most things, but there are lots of people doing things that way. Many UN agencies, many NGOs, many levels of government administration - try another group within the system and if that doesn't work, choose another system. Just don't accuse anyone. Let the lies slide. Don't try to interpret them, they really are just lies.

I don't know... all of a sudden a culture in which government officials are clearly taken to accountability, and their fiscal responsibility openly discussed... a culture in which we can scrutinise the private sector's integrity... it's looking pretty good right about now.

Anonymous, or anyone else, if you're so inclined, please let me know how you see the connection between honesty and culture and corruption.

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