The word, corruption, occupies the lines of newspapers throughout the globe not for the sake of adoration, but for condemnation and disdain. It is a human suffering and atrocities; yet, it is committed by humans. It is an act no one pleases to be associated with, though only a tiny minority manage to be clean from it. Corruption is an act we commit in silence only to cry in public when it serves the advantage of others. It is not something we preach, but we practice to be imitated. It is a communicable disease that is transmitted through blood, breath and bodily-touch. Its effect is universally felt: it cripples the economy, crumbles the society, confuses the politics and kills the moral culture.
Presented below is a story of a Somalilander about his early age experience of corruption at work:
It was in 1959 when I graduated from the secondary school. High school leavers were then the elites and rare. In those days, the school leavers were assigned to summer jobs up until September when they will be pursuing their higher education, a level which was possible only through scholarships. All that was required to get an assignment was the recommendation of the teachers. During my days at the high school, I won the admiration of my teachers – a sure sign to an attractive job.
This was coupled by the fact that I was next to a kin of an important figure in the administration, the Executive Officer, commonly called EO. I was appointed by him, as a fee-collector from the Slaughter House of Hargeisa. The British Administration, who was then in charge, referred this as Slaughter Fee. My official responsibility was to collect the fees from the butchers at the Slaughter House and give them a copy of the fee ticket. Another copy, a counterfoil, was supposed to remain in the book.
My salary was 300 shillings, an equivalence of today’s $500. In addition, I received a stipend of 150 shillings from Dad who was working in Berbera as a translator for the British. Translators, like Dad, earned a hefty money. My income soared to an equivalent of today’s $750. “I must be the richest young man on earth,” I always thought.
Due to my age and my weak military powers, I always enjoyed the company of two policemen to and fro the office. Their responsibility was to ensure my security and that of the money, which they did without any failure.
In those days, the accounting records of the administration were strictly audited by Indian professionals. They never compromised. All that they wanted out of each exercise was crystal clear: cash in hand must be equal to the sum of the counterfoils. Nonetheless, this was not as easy as it might mathematically appear.
The penalty for any perceived corruption was also preset: jail to Mandhera for unknown years plus blacklisting the citizen. Once somebody is blacklisted, no longer can he/she imagine, let alone hold, any civil service post. That is gone and gone for all!
I never wanted to jeopardize my career and future. Under all the hustle and bustle at the Slaughter House, the butchers never failed to pay the fee; however, they always failed to get the fee slip from me! As one payer is following right to the other, there was never a time to hand out the slips while collecting the fee and at the same time.
To pace up with the speedy work, I had to collect the fees first, then cut out a proportionate number of slips from the book later in the day at the comfort of my afternoon chewing sessions.
There is one part of my unofficial assignment which I ignored. The EO paid frequent visits to my small office at the Slaughter House. I had to pay him and his companions all the niceties including tea, pastries, cigarettes and, in some occasions, Khat. Since I was putting every penny in the treasure of the administration, I had to cover all these things out of my pocket, which I did with all the generosity of an novice worker.
I did not know that my effective and efficient way of managing the small fees would only attract me more problems. The pain of exhausting my pocket finally hurt my small calculative brain. One day, the EO who, as usual, was accompanied by many people including his in-laws, appeared at my office. For your reminder, in-laws are among the most respected people within the circle of a man. One of the security guards informed me about his presence. I exploded to the guard, “I do not care whoever is here.” I continued, “I will never buy him anything anymore!”
Everyone was astonished at my behaviour. Of course, I was fed up. I slammed the door of the safe shut, locked and threw the keys to the EO. I told him that I quitted from this “dirty job.”
No one understood why. On the contrary, they all thought that I was jeopardising my future naively and childishly. In addition, they also wondered why I was so rude to the EO who was so nice as to put me in the Slaughter Fee Collection service!
The EO also talked to some of my close relatives, particularly elders who could “change my mind.” He told them that he has been so kind to me and put me in a place where the tap will never go dry. To be more elaborate, he said, “I was just trying to breast-feed him until his scholarship comes.”
Somalis use the word, breast-feeding “Naas-Nuujin,” to disguise the evilness of corruption.
So, dear reader, with your superior judgement, I would like to ask you: What can you think of the future of this young inexperienced man? Is he infected or only affected? Are we, as the community, infected or affected as a result of that experience?