Quite a question to push out a few weeks before Xmas where it’s all about rewarding good behaviour! However, it’s a question that came up yesterday at an International Volunteers Day celebration in Hanoi.
A new volunteer, that is new to Vietnam, had just experienced her first two weeks at work in a fairly remote Northern Province city. It’s a new VSO partner so virgin territory so to speak.
She had had a busy two weeks being taken around and shown off as The Volunteer. Happens all the time in Vietnam. Volunteers are considered a sign of respectability. You got one of those? Good, you’re in.
During her recounting of her work she mentioned that she had brought more books than clothes and the University she is attached to grabbed them to copy them. She sort of wondered whether that might be legal or not. She’s from a European country.
The Canadian volunteer and myself, her audience, fell about laughing. What a question to have from a European person. Copyright infringement should surely be something everybody in the developed world knows about. Or so one would imagine.
What it did do though, this outrageous statement, make us reflect on how quickly we as volunteers could get corrupt ourselves – not that we necessarily consider the new volunteer corrupt I hasten to add. There was an exercise we did during our pre-placement training which made us reflect on when our moral barometer would kick in.
At what stage did we think the particular example of corruption was now wrong and what corrupt and illegal activity did we feel we wanted to allow because it would lead to doing some good.
At what stage would we consider the end would justify the means was the question we reflected upon. At the time we all had very strong ideas of right and wrong and where we would draw the line. Yet here was a volunteer two weeks into her placement and she was already breaking an international law.
But then you (and I) would be inclined to defend her action by saying that everybody copies books, music, designs and other easy to copy intellectual property.
But what’s next? Do we shrug our shoulders when we see bribery openly discussed? Or do we buy into that too?
Let me give you an example. The Centre I work at trains up young disabled people in handicraft skills and at the same time sources business to give them employment should they not find employment with their new skills.
The Director has a great vision of building a model village at a more outlying area of Hanoi and has the land in mind, and in fact is renting it already, that would serve this purpose beautifully. Negotiations are quite far along to give her the land for the Centre, an NGO,. for an extensive lease period at little or no cost.
What is stalling the process? A bribe so large that she just doesn’t have the money for it. And what’s more, we have an interested donor to pay for the buildings.Â What do you do? Do you find a donor to pay for the bribe?
Do you invent a project so that you can get the money to pay the bribe? Do you even know if this is the last bribe or are there more to come?
And what makes this situation any different to many others worldwide? It’s just the bribe that looks different surely. In the USA you might need that amount of money to pay for a lobbyist.Â Actually probably a lot more!
In South Africa a decent sized motor vehicle usually does the trick. In fact talking moral issues here. here’s another one for you. Should BMW allow it’s cars to be bought for bribery purposes? Good question isn’t it?
So where do you think you would draw the line? And at what stage, and with what humanitarian outcome at stake, would you bow to the dirty tricks the world constantly dishes up to us? Got you scratching your head, I would imagine.