Confronting Corruption

Part 1, 2, 3, 4

Georgian policemen inspect a bus in the town of Rustavi.

Tea has just pulled something out from behind the desk. It's a shirt and pinned on the back behind the breast pocket. What is it? It's a hidden camera! Tiny. It's about 1 inch square. She's just showing me how it's put on so it would look like a slight rumple in your shirt if you were wearing it. I ask, "So, you use that hidden camera to trap people?"

"Yeah. Right," she says. "The person who phones here gets one these camera and goes and records the process of bribing."

"Can we see it happening?"

"Of course," says Tashvilli. "We can record it and you can see everything yourself."

A day later, they're about to fit a camera onto Nana Karolibza who phoned up to say that a doctor was demanding a large bribe, 100 lari, in order to issue her father with a disability certificate. There's a real sense of idealism here among these young people of excitement of the prospect of nailing somebody who steals from her fellow citizens. After a final flurry of instructions of how exactly to behave, Karolibza is off striding down the corridor, one soldier in the fight against corruption.

But faster than I could have imagined she just walked back in through the door.

"Now the doctor refused to take the money," says Karolibza, through a translator. "And goes like, 'Now you have to bring your father here and he should be checked by all the doctors.'"

I asked her if she knew why the doctor changed her attitude.

"The information was leaked," says Karolibza. "The doctor probably knew that she was wearing a hidden camera."

It's not surprising Georgians are becoming more honest. TV news bulletins bring sensational reports of fresh corruption arrests. Once-untouchable grandees have been shown stumbling into police vans. Even police investigators have been swept up for taking bribes. In general, the chain of corruption extends in almost every occupation, from bottom to top.

It's hard to persuade anyone to explain the process in detail, but one former traffic policeman has agreed to talk to me anonymously. He's under investigation himself after a TV report showed a motorist offering him money. He says they can't prove he accepted it that time. Although he admits he usually had no hesitation in taking bribes.

"Under Shevardnadze," says the man, "the system was created in a way that you had to take bribes to survive. Otherwise you would not feed your family. The salaries were really low. There was no other way to get some money except taking money from people, a little bit from anybody. And we were actually the victims of this system. … The average salary of a policeman was about 100 laris, which is about 30 pounds a month."

"If you had to live on 100 laris a month," I asked, "what would you eat? What would you be able to do?"

"For 100 laris a month for a family, the maximum of what you can have is bread and sugar, nothing else."

"That's incredible! Bread and sugar. That's all. What did you have to do to become a traffic policeman?"

"To get a job as a traffic police inspector was pretty, pretty difficult," he says. "Either you would have some really strong connections there, or you just had to pay some money to start actually working."

"How much would you pay?"

"It was about two or three thousand dollars to start working."

"Two or three thousand dollars! The way you're describing it, it would take a long time even to get that back for yourself. Tell me how you got the bribes, what you actually did to motorists."

"On the road where I worked, the smugglers smuggling goods were passing by all the time. They would pay us money for letting them through. Then we, the traffic policemen, would give the money to the boss, to our boss, but we definitely knew that he would not keep all the money. Nobody would let him to keep all the money. This money would go really high up for maybe deputy minister, maybe minister. At the end of the month around 350 laris would go to the boss and about 60-70 would remain for us, for each policeman."

"If you would not pass the money on, what would have happened to you in your job?"

"It was very simple. If you would not pay, you would lose your job immediately and you would be unemployed."

"The higher up people that you had to pass the money on to, what has happened to them since the revolution?"

"Well, my bosses are not there anymore. They were fired."

"But the money they collected through you, can that money ever be recovered?"

"When you start a criminal case against a person, you need facts to prove he's guilty. In that case there are no facts."

Go to Part 3

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