Tuesday Topic: Paying Bribes

Today’s topic is one that likely affects quite a number of us, especially in less developed countries.

How do you handle living in a country where bribery is the normal way that the culture operates? Do you think it is always wrong to pay bribes? How do you define the boundary between bribery and extortion? Thanks!

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

(If you would like to pose a “Tuesday Topic” question, please email it to formissionarymoms@gmail.com . Provide you blog address if you would like to be linked to, and specify also if you would like to remain anonymous. Thanks!)

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8 Responses to “Tuesday Topic: Paying Bribes”


  1. 1 Andrea March 9, 2010 at 7:59 am

    This is a great question which just last week I received some clarity to from some more veteran missionaries we have befriended. According to US law, there is something called a “grease payment” which is actually legal under IRS guidelines. A grease payment is what we would typically think of as a “bribe” but basically is a payment that will expedite a process or give encouragement to get something done faster THAT THE PERSON IS SUPPOSED TO DO. For instance, it is within the job scope of an immigration officer to process a work permit given the right paper work. A grease payment will encourage that immigration officer to get the paper work processed quicker than “normal” in the given country. Here’s another example of “grease payments” in the USA: Paying an exorbitant fee to expedite getting a passport. Something that normally only costs $50 and can take up to six months can be done with a cost triple that amount and done in a matter of days.

    A true BRIBE, that can never be acceptable, is to give a payment to the same officer to get a work permit for someone other than yourself or without the appropriate papers. In other words, asking them to do something THAT IS NOT WITHIN THE SCOPE OF WHAT THE PERSON IS SUPPOSED TO DO. This is always illegal.

    Hope that gives some insight. We are living in Uganda and it seems like almost everything requires a little incentive to get the job done. But this explanation from a friend helped my husband and I to see what things are acceptable to push and what things are never acceptable.

  2. 2 @ngie March 9, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly with what Andrea just said. I was recently talking to a friend who grew up as a TCK in Kenya. She is now a missionary here in Bolivia. Her father explained what some might call a bribe is simply paying someone a bonus to do their job; it becomes a true bribe when you give money to someone to accompliah an illegal action.

  3. 3 aliciafox March 9, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    We have tried to use something other than money as incentive. A batch of home made cookies or bread or a book has gone a long way for us!

  4. 4 Ashley L March 9, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    I have never heard of a “grease payment” but that idea totally makes sense and helped me a lot in the sense that most of the situations that always seem confusing in my mind (you know those stories that you hear and have no idea what you’d do??) are when you know when someone is supposed to do something but they just aren’t doing it and you aren’t trying to get them to do something illegal but you need them to carry out whatever service is in question. I guess in that situation I was thinking it is a sort of extortion as well. Thankfully even though lots of people pay bribes where we are, our family has yet to face a problem where people refused to do budge after we proved to be stubborn on the issue. One of our favorite stories was when a police officer tried to get my husband to pay him a bribe of whiskey (assuming that since he is from America he probably had some on hand) and then refused to believe that my husband was a Christian morally opposed to paying bribes because he didn’t dress like a Christian. A friend of my husband’s did finally convince the officer that even though my husband was dressed in jeans, a skater hat, and a whatever non-formal shirt he was wearing that he was still a Christian. The guy let them off the hook and my husband and friend invited him to church. Good times.

  5. 5 Addie March 9, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    What an interesting topic! Living in the US (near Seattle) this would never occur to me as a problem for those in ministry outside the US (although I’m sure it happens everywhere). I look forward to reading the comments of those in foreign ministry!

  6. 6 Amy Medina March 10, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    This is a tricky one. We’ve gone through 2 adoptions in Tanzania, so have had multiple opportunities for bribes. We won’t pay them. I like our lawyer’s philosophy. She says, “We’ll pay for people to get work done, but not to make decisions.” I’ve also heard the “grease” philosophy mentioned above as a “pre-tip.” I can handle that.

    Corruption is so rampant in Tanzania that we are careful not to contribute to that. Once I went to extreme lengths to make sure I paid for a traffic ticket legally instead of just pay off the officer (like he wanted me to do). It took about 4 hours of my time to instead make sure it was done legally (whereas paying off the officer would have taken 30 seconds). But it was worth it to me. I want to be careful not to encourage the problems that are already destroying the country.

  7. 7 Richelle March 11, 2010 at 11:51 am

    We follow the same philosophy as Amy. We don’t pay bribes, or “grease payments” (although I follow the logic) in our country of service. We’ve chosen not to because we want to be totally separate from a corrupt system that encourages bribes and where many in that system would consider “grease payments” as no different than bribe.

    We rely on relationships and persistence, and we’ve taken our cue off of local pastors and nigerien believers. Last year, it required nearly weekly trips for almost 3 months to replace my local driver’s license, something that should have been done in a few weeks. It took our organization 7 years to have a non rent paying tenant who had breached his contract legally removed from a building… We’ve found that sometimes that means building a relationship we might not have originally chosen, or working through relationships to find out how to procede when we’ve reached what seems to be an impasse. but we’ve seen God work in such circumstances.

    I actually think the struggle is more difficult for national believers. They have incredible amounts of pressure placed upon them to obtain a favorable outcome as quickly as possible, or “God isn’t listening” to them, He doesn’t care… etc. Yet when “helping expedite a situation” is the choice, their Christian ethics, testimony and faith are often doubted and called into question… they are held to a much tougher standard, as believers.

  8. 8 Andrea Pavkov March 17, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    Personally,we do not pay bribes. We feel as though for us it is contributing to a system that encourages dishonesty. For me to go in and pay someone to do what they are already paid to do and therefore have something done quicker sends a clear message that their behavior is acceptable and that I have the means to do that constantly. Then we wonder why nationals assume we are rich and that we “owe” them things. I guess I just ask myself which supporter do I tell, “Oh, by the way your support this month went to bribing the officer to get my paperwork done.” I am not comfortable with that kind of stewardship. And certainly just because the US Government calls it legal, in my mind is not reason to call it good in God’s eyes. Is it frustrating? Absolutely. But persistence goes a very long way.


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