Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 9 April 2019

In South Sudan, the culture of bribery, but call it normal


By Steve Paterno

In South Sudan getting an official and legitimate public service goes down like this: For example, you will early in the morning go down to a public office to have your legitimate case processed. In the first hours of the morning, you will be totally ignored. The public officials spend most of their morning hours sipping teas (on credits, since they are broke for months), wasting time on small talks, gossiping, talking how inefficient the government is providing services, etc. By around midday, which is nearing lunch time, (most people only work till lunch time and call it a working day), the public officials would notice you. They will tell you, ’come tomorrow, there has been no time to tend to you.’ ’Come tomorrow’, similar routine will play itself, until it is almost lunchtime, then in a hurry, they will lecture what requirements you need to bring along next time you bother to come again, until you begin to doubt yourself that you never meet the requirements they are talking about, though you posses all that required.

After bothering yourself for days of persistence, they will reluctantly take on your case. Your case would then be bogged down under the desk for weeks. Some who are on edge of boiling point would normally resort to other drastic measures, but some who are persistently following up may be lucky.

So, you may be lucky to have your case be processed, but the kicker is this: after enduring all your resourceful time, the public officials who worked your case, would in no uncertain terms demand upfront that you pay him or her for the service he or she rendered you. In other words, he or she would be officially asking for the bribe. You have no choice, but to comply under such condition.

For those who understand the system, in order for you to get your case done, just pay the particular official upfront before he or she takes on your case. This is the best way to avoid all the unnecessary hassles. The South Sudanese society inadvertently accepts this system as a norm, so who are you to play an outsider.

I am told that these officials move along with their offices. This simply means, they collect necessary documents plus the stamp and move along with it in their raggedy bags. They process the documents on demand, everywhere they go and at every given time. The office buildings are not sure places for the issuance of documents.

In my case, I was instructed by the big boss, that she was shameful to tell me the truth about this bad practice. That officer so was handling my case. In order for my case to be expedited, I must offer something small for that officer as motivation so that he does the job. I obliged, given the circumstances. She stressed, "this is South Sudan for you my dear." I notched, of course in disapproval.

So, I went to that officer fully instructed so as my case is given priority. Upon arrival in his office, the poor guy mistakenly excused himself. He told us to wait for him that he will be back within just five minutes.

We waited for over thirty minutes, the guy was nowhere to be seen. The other guy who accompanied me told me we should go. (Perhaps, he was speaking from point of experience). I told him, we should not blow our chance, because we were told to wait and waiting does no harm. Anyway, patience never paid that time around. We waited for three wasteful bad hours and I called it a quit.

By then, the exhaustion, under scorching sun, the thirst, the hunger, all seemed to rival against my anger. As we slowly trekked our way back, one of my companions saw the guy and said, "there seated the fellow we were patiently waited for." The guy seemed relaxed at the tea place, busily carrying on tea talks. On the other hand, I was all irritated. I asked that I should confront the guy in his comfortable place, but I was swayed away by my companions who knew very well I was for ugly confrontations. Perhaps, another culture that South Sudanese embrace very well is that of confrontations. So, let us all jumped into the fray since all are aggrieved in one way or another.

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