Re-evaluating bribery and corruption

One of the most amusing things I’ve encountered is the idea that without giving a ‘bribe’, which is deemed as corrupt, nothing could be achieved in India. However, as a child watching the act of passing money or goods to another person who could facilitate or fulfil a desired request, I observed just how invaluable an asset that ‘gift’ was for the recipient, how gratefully received it was, how prayers were offered for the benefit of the benefactor.

Despite elders bemoaning the transaction as a bribe, the gift of money exchanged for a need fulfilled seemed to me a vital element in people’s lives: it covered kids’ schooling, family medical bills, a daughter’s dowry, in fact a host of everyday things.

Set this against the Wikipedia entry for bribery: an incredibly long list that, if we were to measure it against the everyday lives and activities of the European world, points a fat finger of bribery at the Western world – that somehow gets ignored in favour of tainting the older, more mature and civilised parts of the world with the stigma of bribery. If you give the transaction a formal title it becomes a legally and morally acceptable form of exchange between two parties; take the aura of legitimacy away by refusing to give the exchange a title, and hey presto, it is bribery and corruption.

Transactions in mature civilisations are as old as the human race and form part of a barter system, even though the exchange is not of goods – my lathe for your horse – but of money and fulfillment of a desired outcome. It is no less a barter just because the commodities involved have changed, because money is involved. In fact, the giving of a ‘gift’ to facilitate a desired or necessary outcome is an honoured tradition in all mature civilisations.

The western world has colluded to overlook the societal impact of this rite, its place in the pantheon of societal development, and to ignore the gratitude and humbleness that is mutually existing between both giver and recipient.; it discards too how this form of exchange symbolises both parties’ (predominantly the recipient of the ‘gift’) freedom from greed and accumulation and rank materialism.

To have a ‘gift’ refused is the height of insult, a judgement on your presumed moral and ethical inferiority. The rite persist today, but unfortunately is neither recognised nor accepted as an elevated form of bartering that makes both parties complicit in an attitude of mutual gratitude and communalism.

Part of the demise of the honourable aspects of the rite of ‘gift’ exchange must be laid at the door of the Indians as well as of European hegemonic value-making that criminalizes the Other and its values – for abusing the system, which is one of relationality as well as of expectation, beyond its capacity to sustain such a haemorrhage. By embedding the practice in greed accumulation, the foundations of a normal service transaction have been rent asunder.

If we are to reinvigorate the true relevance and importance of a transactional system whereby gifts are made of goods and/or money in exchange for fulfillment of a desired outcome, and stamp out the false taint of illegitimacy around mature civilisations and their practices, then we could do worse than asserting the origins of the transaction practice – save it from clutches of revisionist history-making; and, in the spirit of current parlance and values on entrepreneurship, denote each person as having simultaneously a salaried career and one as a service entrepreneur.

Wikipedia’s entry on bribery is not mired in fact, it is an attitude and a value-system posing as fact. The real fact is that transactional systems have existed for millennia and that within them money is one among many possible bartering goods, not merely – as it has become – a symbol of greed and corruption.

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