Somalia has been toping list of the most corrupt countries in the world for the last 10 years. Corruption penetrated into every aspect of our lives. It so prevalent that it became part of our culture and our way of life and synonymous with Somali name. “musuq-maasuq Somali waa maheradeedi” said by a somali poem.
Somalis are fully aware of the existence of corruption in this level and believe corruption is a major problem for their country. Sometimes, we exaggerate it to an extent that we attribute all our failures to corruption. In addition, we believe that if Somali government tackles corruption from its offices and officials, the country will prosper and that was main reason why we rallied behind this new government.
But how serious are we about tackling corruption? Are we ready as society to contribute to corruption reduction by changing our ways of dealing with government officials and workers? Do we really know that our actions perpetuate the spread of corruption?
Speed money (howl fududays)
Most of us are familiar with speed money and in one way or other every one of us pays it. In most cases we pay speed money not because a civil servant demands it but because of procrastination and inertia or because of our hate of following rules and instructions. For example, if one of us wants to apply a passport, instead of going to passport office and fill the relevant forms, he/she prefer to pay a little extra to someone they know who works in that office or a middleman so that they do the work for them and bring the passport without leaving their home.
This kind of behaviour is very common in our country. It is practiced by almost all of us without realising that we are committing a crime. It is these actions of ours what breeds corruption. For example, that civil servant who sorted your passport out expect from others to do the same and if they do not he/she will try to force them either by asking them directly or by prolonging the process so that they get tired and negotiate. It goes in way until it reaches where a bureaucrat do not perform a required task without paying them. This is a well-known phenomenon in our country and “shaqadu dhac-dhac ma leedahay” is a mantra we often hear.
Another form, through which we encourage bribery, although it has less effects, is gift giving. Unconsciously, we bribe public sector workers in the form of gift giving. For example, it is very common in whole of Somalia to give money, clothes or some other valuable stuff to Qur’anic and school teachers and other low paid civil servants by parents who want to build a good relationship with them or by other public members who may expect some sort of reciprocation. Although parents or others give gifts with good intentions and sometimes without expecting reciprocation, yet the receiver will strive to repay it however possible. Because of the sense of indebtedness, unreciprocated gifts makes the receiver feel inferior thus the receiver will strive to get rid of this feeling by reciprocating it.
One may argue that an exchange of small gift cannot influence anyone. However, research disproves this. One study conducted in the US concludes that small gifts may create a stronger reciprocal effect than large gifts making the receiver even more indebted to the giver. For instance, if you invite your child’s Qur’anic teacher for tea or lunch several times, without doubt, relationship will develop between you which, in return, make the teacher feel guilt for not repaying your favours. To eliminate this feeling, the teacher will start giving an extra support to your child in his lessons and exercises. It is important to understand that this extra time given to your child has come out off time of another child who pays the same fees as yours but his parents do not invite the teacher for tea which means the teacher is trading his entrusted authority unconsciously.
These implications were well understood by our Salaf ass-salih. Cumar ibnu cabdul-casiis, for instance, once refused to accept a gift from a member of the public. Some of his entourage said to him the prophet SWC used to accept presents and gifts from anyone regardless their faith gender and status so why did you refuse to take it. Omar replied “it was a gift for him but it is bribe for me” I am not like him, taking gifts from the public will damage my impartiality he said. Likewise, Sufyaan Al-thawri, the great scholar and God-fearing, also once refused to take gift from a parent of one his students. Once asked why he did so, Sufyan replied I do not want my heart to turn towards the child of this parent which may lead me giving him a special treatment over other students.
There is nothing wrong with giving gifts and presents to anyone regardless their profession and it is permissible in Islam. Our believed prophet peace and blessing be upon him (PBBH) also encouraged us to give gift where he said, “give gifts to each other so that you will love each other”. In addition, it is tested and proven that gift giving plays an essential role in community cohesion and co-existence.
However, without rules of what to give and how much, it may turn to be bribery and perverts the whole system of a country. Moreover, when it comes to bureaucratic situation, the risk of corruption is too high. Because “a society-to-bureaucracy transaction, someone gives a gift to an organisational member but the counter gift does not come from one’s own pocket but from public or private organizational resource” and that becomes bribe.
In those countries which curbed corruption to some extent, there are rules in every public sector. These rules set out what can be given as a gift and who can accept it. For example, school, college or university employees in the UK can accept any gift worth up to £20. If the gift exceeds this amount, they should inform the management and record it in detail. In the US, the president can accept presents and gifts up to $250 and anything exceeds this should be reported to congress and sent to the treasury. In addition, money cannot be given as a gift to any civil servants. These rules are in line with Islamic Sharia which prohibits office holders to accept gifts given to them because of their work.
Once our beloved SCW sent one of his companions to collect Zakat. When he had come back, he divided what he brought into two and said. This is the Zakat and this is a gift given to me. Hearing this, the Rasuul PBBH got very angry and ascended to his minbar and said “What is the matter with the worker? We send him away and say, “This is for you, and this is my duty.” Did not he sit in his father’s house and see whether or not? And the same Mohammed with his hand, do not send any of you take something but came on the Day of Resurrection bear it on his neck, if he had a robe, or a cow with a baw, or a sheep”.
This statement emphasises the importance of fighting corruption by not allowing office holders to use their position for wealth collection. No matter what, civil servants receive a salary for exercising their duties so they should not receive more than their salary. Paying bribes/gifts in addition to their salary will not add value nor add to productivity but leads to significant inefficiency and undermines our confidence in the system.
If we want to see corruption-free Somalia, we must change our individual behaviour and preserve the rule of law. We must stop bribing our civil servants and adhere to the Sharia rules. In Islam, bribery is haram and everyone involved in it is cursed by the prophet PBBH. Fighting corruption in the highest level of the society alone does not yield a desirable result because you cut branches off a tree and not the stump it keeps growing. To make government efforts more effective, a combined top-down and bottom up approach, in which both government and the general public work together, is required.
As long as the general public pay bribery voluntarily no change will ever happen thus corruption will remain at the same level. Therefore, eradicating corruption from our country depends very largely on our individual behaviour and attitudes.
Ibrahim Aden Shire