Tuesday 29 April 2008

Living wage - a dimension to fighting corruption

Education for a better life

Many parents in developing countries have great aspirations for their children and one they pay the most attention to is education.

There is a belief that putting a child through school is a gateway to having their children attain a better life than that into which they were born.

I want to belief that this assertion still finds true though I wonder if education is as life-changing as it was for the generation of my parents and consequently mine.

Paying the teacher

Watching the news this morning there was a story of a 13-year old Cambodian girl who had to leave school because she could not pay the teachers considering the country does have a free education programme.

But then, I saw the same issue in Sorious Samura’s Living With Corruption documentary where in Sierra-Leone government employed teachers depended on their pupils to provide the means for them to survive.

Paying a living wage

There is a function of government and employment in government which when missing fosters practices that are innately corrupt.

Governments in poor countries have to lead by paying there staff a living wage, one that meets the needs for housing, food, utilities, health, transport, possible eventualities with a little to put aside.

Where governments, organisations or businesses fail to meet this basic requirement, the shortfall has to be met somewhere –

  • it allows the police to set up road blocks indiscriminately that act as illegal toll gates
  • teachers instruct their pupils to bring in money and household essentials or risk failure and exclusion
  • customs officials over and above the outrageous import duties that impede the smooth flow of goods and services, create distorted markets
  • employees file their taxes returns with non-existent children to gain pecuniary advantage
  • bureaucrats are not responsive in performing their duties until persuaded by illegal means

The system feeds the system from the top to the bottom, it has become endemic; you begin to wonder how this can be dealt with conclusively.

The abuse of power

Then I remember when I was at the polytechnic, there were two courses no one could dream of passing if they had not bought at expense the tutorials produced by the lecturers.

There was nothing fresh about the tutorials, they were just an opportunity for men in power to fleece their students and get away with it.

These lecturers earned a good living wage because I also had an uncle who was a lecturer in the same polytechnic who served as an emergency resource when I was skint and he definitely had more personal responsibilities than the lecturers on the make.

That is the other dimension to this issue, greedy people in power who exercise with impunity the power to demand favours and reward patronage just because they can.

The matter of corruption is a multi-headed hydra and we need to decapitate each head as we look towards the development of poor countries – let us hope each head taken off doesn’t grow into another menacing snake head.

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