Corruption’s Blurry Edges

Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with a Haitian acquaintance of mine. The topic of our conversation had turned towards the corruption endemic to many underdeveloped countries, upon which point he said:
 “When I came to America, I did not know what the word ‘bribe’ meant. We don’t have these things in Haiti. In Haiti, if you pay a government employee to get something done, you are giving him a tip. Most government employees do not get paid enough to support themselves. It is with these tips  they feed their families. It is just like a restaurant. You tip those people who are doing a good job.”
He went on to criticize the various charities operating in his country* who did not understand this dynamic. He specifically targeted LDS Philanthropies, but made clear that the problem was common to many religious groups and NGOs working out of Port-au-Prince. As he described it, LDS Philanthropies is as an excellent organization truly dedicated to helping Haiti, but is fatally handicapped by the charity’s refusal to engage in anything that could be construed as bribery. This refusal to pay the civil service fee stops the great majority of NGOs from accomplishing anything useful in the country.
Transparency International recently ranked Haiti as one of the twenty most corrupt societies in the world.  I am curious how much of that corruption is simply the expected “civil service fee”.
*Pre-Earthquake.  He has not been home since the earthquake hit.

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