Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Offsetting Bribery

It has been three weeks since I decided to pay electricity, yet unsuccessful. it took me a week to find out how exactly to pay electricity bill; this is my first time, my bad is telling me that the payment mechanism has improved tremendously. Bribery has changed the culture of state sector but also people in general; people have become less helpful even in comparison with five years ago. On an upside note it is interesting to see how such changes can be deeply rooted over a short period of time. I had to go to the right meter box and then the right power junction and after that to the right electrician for my street, etc. Finding all this in a new neighborhood is hard and traditionally you rely on peoples' good manner and attitude to help you out. But these days people just wouldn't bother much to help out a stranger. They want to see what is their personal benefit in it. Life has become as dull as everyone is so concerned about how they could monetarily benefit from something. Monetary income has also become a determinant of statue. There is the public obsession at different tiers to worry about financial status of others; starting from a brother at family tier to politician at the government tier. People have lost interest in doing things because it is fun, nice or interesting.

Corruption breaks down social fabrics and functioning of the society. I was getting help because there was no recognized reason for them to take money from me; just giving information is not good enough to get bribed. But also I didn't know any of the guy at the power station. Another negative effect of corruption on state sector has been strengthen tribalism. You have to know somebody even to be allowed in the office. It is already a compounded problem – *corrupted tribalism* and it is only getting worst. People bundle up in blood relationships, interest groups, mates, gangs, mafia and etc to suck money out of the society. The believe is, you can only make money if you do it the wrong way and this belief is reinforced by living proofs. People who make money don't usually have good reputation and doing things the right way seem to be reserved predominantly for suckers. The belief is that there is a lot of money around at the hand of people who don't know what to do with it. Which is absolutely true. Now everybody is getting creative to get some of this money. The idea of doing something useful with the money is as strange as questioning God. An old mate who has a big business was telling me people of minister and MP level visits him for a bonus from a large project when he gets one. Bribery is now history and the fashion of the day is extortion. People in power are more creative in corruption than the rest, as usual.

I am now thinking what could be possibly done countermeasure the negative social consequences of bribery. I believe there is nothing wrong with the mania to get rich. However, the glorification of status material such as car, house and money to the extent that nothing is now considered bogus to gain them, is the problem. Changing the way people think about bribery is important in changing perception of corruption. I thought the concept of carbon offsetting can also be altered to bribe offsetting, carbon offsetting is well rehearsed in the west and at its root is also changing populous perception about a social demon.

Bribe offsetting is when individuals take bribe because they are in a position to facilitate, block, delay or hinder a public; they add to national corruption and social evils. bribeoffset offsets bribe takers (and bribe givers) by funding someone else to be clean and NOT take bribe. This neutralises the harm and unfairness that could happen when lower level staff try to extort from the most unfortunate, and leaves the bribe taker (and bribe giver) with a clear conscience.

Can officials offset all their bribery?

First officials should look at ways of reducing their bribery. Once they've done this they can use bribeoffset to offset the remaining, unavoidable bribery.

A bribe offset is a financial instrument aimed at a reduction in administrative corruption and subsequently all the social evil it causes. There are two markets for bribe offsets. In the larger, compliance market, companies, governments, international organisations or other entities buy bribe offsets in order to comply with caps on the total amount of bribe they can allow to happen due to organizational failure to detect. There is also much smaller, voluntary market, individuals purchase bribe offsets to mitigate their own contribution from bribe taking or bribe giving. For example, an individual might purchase bribe offsets to compensate for the bribery action caused by be in a position to take bribe or induced to give bribe. We will also offer companies, government, international organization and other entities with the option to offset bribery as an up-sell during the work process so that employees, clients and other stakeholders can mitigate the bribery related with their work or service (such as offsetting bribery related to a car taxation, electricity bill, police checkpoint, employment etc.) for example an international organization contracted by USAID to build 40 hospitals up-sell 40 bribe offsetting certificate related to 40 hospitals. The organization then reduces a small sum from all staff salary to finance upsell bribe certificate. Alternatively the organization can charge a premium to Afghan subcontractors who receive the contract to do the field work.

Offset is achieved through financial support of projects that reduce bribe taking. Officials and staff who are in a position to take bribe but think they can resist will be sponsor by a bribe offset.

The idea is based on carbon offsetting that is a well rehearsed approached and that has gained some appeal and momentum among the public who have become aware and concerned about the potentially negative environmental effects of energy-intensive lifestyles and economies. The Kyoto Protocol has sanctioned offsets as a way for governments and private companies to earn carbon credits which can be traded on a marketplace. The protocol established the clean development mechanism (CDM), which validates and measures projects to ensure they produce authentic benefits and are genuinely "additional" activities that would not otherwise have been undertaken. Organizations that are unable to meet their emissions quota can offset their emissions by buying CDM-approved Certified Emissions Reductions. However, some critics object to carbon offsets, and question the benefits of certain types of offsets. Offsets are viewed as an important policy tool to maintain stable economies. One of the hidden dangers of climate change policy is unequal prices of carbon in the economy, which can cause economic collateral damage if production flows to regions or industries that have a lower price of carbon - unless carbon can be purchased from that area, which offsets effectively permit, equalizing the price.

Bribe offsetting may be more feasible and convenient alternatives to reducing one's own bribery affect.

The key problem for the approach is openness. Bribe giver offsetting certificate is more important than the takers. How can we get them to sign up. Any thoughts?

Here are some:

The rational is openness should start with high ranking officials to set open precedence.

Getting as much as possible evidence on dealings, asset and property prior to sign up high ranking official can be useful.

There has got to be some way to deal with the officials who hide corruption for instance they can remain anonymous.

In addition to bribe takers bribe giver can also offset.

We find match for bribe offset projects. The certificate holder can choose person in which sector should receive the money, police, judge. etc.

Monday, December 21, 2009

more random thoughts on cellphone project

Last couple of months I have been working on using cellphone in media and business communication. Most of the people I put the idea to is going, "but is this going to work in Afghanistan?" which basically means I don't like what you are saying but I find no way to hand you a bunch of better refutations. I have met with senior staff in charge of private sector support initiatives and they are so clueless about their job that they can't offer anything substantiating and constructive.

However, market uncertainty is a valid concern; so far in building Afghanistan and its private sector the players had dodged it. Aid agencies and NGOs just like to give goats or dig wells or drainage for Afghans. You think more than cattle as an afghan and your sanity is questioned. They look at you as though you suffer concussion; I spent half an hour the other day to practice turning my saliva into foam. Not doing good yet but I don't think I need it if I could get people to take the project seriously.  I think one way I could do that is to do a market assessment. Nonetheless, I have a big concern, I am all for doing market assessment for a new brand of tea but when you are combining two sectors, i.e. market connection and cellphone then using classic market assessment methodology will not prove a thing and wrongly disprove ideas such as iBazar (I mentioned it in my previous post). Moreover, the perceived level of complexity required by iBazar sellers and buyers might also foster unfavorable response. iBazar do present new market channels but the response to such a new phenomena in business especially when it is brought by technology is negative. Six years ago when I was telling people to do radio they were mocking me. Not even a handful of Afghans believed it will work. They could never believe that radio could be done without gigantic infrastructure or content could be produced without president decree or advertisement could bring revenue or … etc.

In the process of pitching cellphone related project ideas some aspects of Afghanhood seem sharper than ever before; and how it is niggling into the newly created business cramp. We are brought up to be conformative to the social and individual regime imposed on us but at the same time we are dreadfully egoistic. The roots for the problem can be traced to our early childhood. Most fathers ignore, disrespect and beat their children from the age of only a few months old and then their mothers console them. Children grow to be suppressed on the one hand but overcomforted on the other by their own mothers. Mothers tightly grip to children because they have no man to show affection, husbands pay no heed to their feelings.

Most Afghans do not have an in-depth understanding of their surrounding but comprehend from a single dimension. They are not fun because they cannot get to change perspective and look from different perspectives because they fanatically cling to certain values of their existing paradigm. The egoist and conformative individual understand and perceive the world from his perspective. The past is about what he did and how he did it. The present is what he thinks. He gives monologues; shows little willingness to hear and evaluate new ideas; communication is confrontational. Things are changing in the last few years people get to learn the social skills to communicate with others easier and they develop curiosity or copy cut curiosity to make their character more attractive. They shine better and function more successfully but at the end their understanding of the issues change little to the initial doctrines inserted by the society. Below the surface of communication and social interaction they remain the same people. In the business world they are easier to deal with but you cannot put a lot of trust in them because they are no better than the ME, ME, ME guy. They are slicker and can pretend better which are phony qualities added to the initial ignorance. But there is something very important to know about socially easy conformists who don't act and function like the rest of their compatriots. There are actually people who have understanding of the realities or are sincere and truthful in their views and self recognition.