10 October 2005

Corruption

Corruption is a real problem here in Kyrgyzstan as it is in many parts of the world (and, yes, I don't doubt that there is corruption in the US- but that's not the point here). Students buy grades, judges are easily persuaded, and positions are often bought. It's not a good way to run a country by any means.

There are lots of explanations for the corruption; low salaries are often cited. Policemen aren't paid a lot, and accepting bribes can help feed your family. But while some say higher salaries would help, many believe the corruption goes deeper than that. And it obviously can't be completely based on not having enough money because I see the large houses being built by corrupt officials.

Some people have told us that the first time many people encounter corruption personally is when they go to the university. It's altogether too easy to bribe a teacher to give you a good grade. A friend of ours told us that if his university didn't have such a strict policy against corruption (it is a Turkish-run university), he would certainly bribe his teachers since it is so much easier. In the same breath though, he tells us that corruption is very bad for the country. No one likes a corrupt government.

When the new government came into power, they promised to make it easier for people to start businesses or begin construction projects. It has become easier, but the real reason may not be less regulation, but simply fewer requirements, which necessitates fewer officials to bribe.

Many people say that the most corrupt people here are the policemen and the lawyers and judges. How can the system change when those interpreting and enforcing the law are the most corrupt? A government official who was going after corruption was recently fired because, as some say, he was getting too close to corruption in very high levels of government.

For the most part this corruption doesn't affect us. We've never been stopped by the police, and I don't expect any legal trouble while we're here. What does concern me is enforcing building codes. Why should I believe that our building was built to any kind of code? Even if I could ask someone, could I trust the answer?

All of these example are bad, but the thing that annoyed me the most about the system was when my husband's translator asked for some money because his wife was due to have a baby any day. Medical care is supposed to be freely available to all here, but if you want the doctor to take good care of your baby, you have to pay him $50. That's a lot for many people; $50 is a month's salary for many university professors and policemen. Therefore, the US equivalent could be around $4,000, not much less than the actual cost of having a baby without insurance in the US. What's the point of a health care system in that case? It bothers me a lot that a doctor would take better care of a patient with more money (again, I'm not saying this doesn't happen in the US, but the poor have far more options there).

And what's most frustrating is that I really don't see a solution. It seems that either a significant majority has to decide that corruption isn't any option anymore, or you have to have a government that is willing to pass and enforce anti-corruption laws. But that lessens a government's power (or the personal power of officials), and I haven't seen many governments or individuals anywhere interested in doing that.

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