This is a 2-part article with the second part to be posted in a few days time. Feel free to comment now but you might want to wait until part 2 to do so. Feel free to share your own stories or agree/disagree with my thoughts…
Part I – Power Corrupts
When you talk to anyone about Bangladesh it is not long before corruption comes up as a subject. Whether you speak to a foreigner like me or a Bangladeshi, if they know the country, they will talk about it as one of the biggest problems – if not the biggest.
When we tell (western) people about the problems we have getting any kind of official help – from train tickets to visas and work permits – and how it is expected that you will pay ghosh, a bribe, they shake their heads and sympathetically mutter “terrible, terrible”.
But it has taken me less than a month of being back in the UK to return to my original thought that Britain has just as much corruption – if not more – than Bangladesh, India or any of the other Asian countries so supposedly ‘well known’ for corrupt government officials and societies based on bribery.
Two particular events have happened to me in the last 24 hours to particularly bring this home to me again. Your reactions to these tales will be interesting to observe. I wonder what you will all think.
The Parking Fine
This morning we received a parking fine in the post for £80. Cleverly, it allows you to pay just £50 if you do so within 10 days of receiving the letter but warns a delay will result in ‘administration charges’ making it £110. Of course, you panic and want to get it paid as quickly as possible, rather than challenge the system. The crime? Parking for 10 minutes longer than the 2 hours FREE parking in a supermarket car park in Whitehaven.
Yes, the signs were up. Yes, we knew we had 2 hours. We did try to get back in time but the Judo club we had taken the kids to for the first time didn’t end when it was supposed to and, instead, finished 10 minutes late. Hence, our late return to the car. At the time, we didn’t know that cameras take pictures of your number plate as you enter and as you leave – 3 years ago, when we last used the car park, they were not there and we didn’t even look at the signs. It was a friend who told us later that this now happens bringing plenty of complaints from customers.
Now, if this had been a car park that charged and we hadn’t bought a ticket, or stayed too long after that, or even had it been the middle of the day when the park would have been crowded and we had taken up a space that could be used by someone else then I think I would have been cross but would think “fair enough”. But it was a virtually empty park at 8:15 pm when we returned and it is obvious that we had attempted to return in time.
We could appeal, but apparently you run the risk of being taken to court and paying a great deal more. We will probably pay and that will be the end of it.
The second event is worse in my mind even though the amount of money involved was less.
Sorry madam, your 10 year old is not a child
Yesterday we went to the Metrocentre in Gateshead for a day of retail therapy. I bought a couple of music books to use with the kids. My wife and kids took my parents in law who took their wallets (before you start wondering how charity workers in Bangladesh can afford a day of shopping at the Metro!).
At lunchtime we first searched for the kid’s grandfather (who had wandered off somewhere) and then we all searched for somewhere to eat. We came to a large Oriental food restaurant and, liking our ‘chinese’ we figured this was a good place. What appealed the most was the £6.95 eat-as-much-as-you-like buffet – we were all starving.
But it was only after we had committed ourselves to eating there – and about to be shown to our table after a 5 minute wait in the queue – that it was pointed out to us that there was a height restriction on the kid’s price of £3.95.
Guess what? Our ten year old daughter was too tall.
So we had to pay £3 extra because she was 1 inch too tall to be classed as a child. All her classmates here and inBangladeshwould have got in as children. Many of our adult female Bangladeshi friends would also have got in as she is taller than them. But our daughter no longer qualifies as ‘child’.
When we sat down and I looked at the menu it also stated that everyone entering the restaurant would be charged for the meal even if they chose not to eat! So had one of us not been feeling well or if we had met up with someone who would sit with us but had already eaten or something, they would also have been charged for the food.
Getting away with it
It was Lord Acton who said “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Far from being something known only in South Asia, I think that corruption occurs wherever you find people in power – whatever form that may be. If you can get away with it then you do. It is no different in Britain than it is in Bangladesh.
The difference is the form of corruption and acceptance. In part II I will write about how these two ways put the British in a much worse situation…