Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Corruption, Spy Glasses,and Knickers,

I could be forgiven for nearly peeing my pants when that momentary tsunami of fear swept through. Awash, I floundered to gather my thoughts while being escorted from Guayaquil Airport's Departures Lounge and down through long corridors and across the tarmac towards Security Inspection in the baggage loading building, a harsh functional affair with several security guards lined up awaiting me. Chappelle Corby probably felt as wet pantied when she got hauled up with drugs she maintained someone had hidden in her boogie board cover. Gee, imagine her thoughts as she got done with those drugs and then copping 20 years in a Bali prison! 20 years and she may have been innocent. Wow! This is your life now girl!

Maybe we should have invested $5 to have our bags wrapped by those bright orange giant glad-wrap machines at the check-in? Maybe someone has stuffed drugs in my bag? Maybe 20 years awaits me....?

We had heard the "McIntosh" in amongst the repeated Spanish gibberish announcements, but ignored it each time: if they wanted us then they'd better use English! Eventually we did front up once the English announcement was made calling me to report at the departure gate for our flight .
Blithely thinking we may just be getting an upgrade for the long flight home after 4 weeks in Ecuador and Galapagos Islands, the guts was knocked out of myself when I was told I must accompany the English speaking airline official as my already checked in bag was to be searched by Security! What on earth for!
"You must come to the Security Inspection immediately!"
Kay said later that I looked like a man going to the firing squad - the colour had drained from my face!
Yeah well, I was caught unaware, and natural to think the worst: I'd read too many travel stories of people having drugs found in their bags.

A bag I recognised as ours lay on the table between the airline official and myself and the seven bored looking security guards, one whom addressed me in Spanish.
"Is this your bag Mr McIntosh?" the airline official translated to me.
"No Senor." I could manage that much Spanish.
"Your passport please."
"My passport is with my wife back in the lounge Senor. You did not ask me to bring it."
A hurried conversation in Spanish and the airline official goes off to retrieve my passport.

Why would they want to search my bag? What had the checked-in security scan picked up?
I'm thinking "I wish I could video record this situation. Who knows what is going to happen?"

Damn, my spy Sunglasses were just the gear I needed now in case things turned nasty, but I couldn't because they were now recording some corrupt official back in ....
(.... can't tell you that as may incriminate a friend.)

Check these out-
On our travels I carry a pair for video filming in situations where a camera may be a target for thieves. The pinhole between the lenses above the nose bridge is a camera; battery and 2Gb mini SD card are in the side frames.

Corrupt tender process.
 In Ecuador a friend showed interest in these as his sister works in a business that is to purchase heavy excavation machinery: a few contenders vying for million dollar contracts. His sister is being pressured, and losing her job has been threatened by a government official if she will not buy from a certain supplier - backhanders are thought to be involved. My friend was to attend a meeting between his sister, the corrupt official and the hopeful supplier. These are just what he wanted to record the meeting and expose the official's corruption! I gave them to him free as he's a genuinely nice guy and his sister should not be forced into being part of the corruption. Hopefully I'll be able to report back on the outcome.

Corruption is endemic in many countries. It's part of life, accepted practice that if you want to make a deal someone gets a slice of the action as a backhander or facilitator.

Suva Fiji, many years ago, a late night bar, whiskey and soda being poured, myself guest of an ex-mayor of Suva, with a prominent building company owner; we three discussing the just finished night's meeting where the spokesperson had addressed around 100 business and government officials - the subject: Stamping Out Corruption!"

"It's not corruption. It's 'speed' money. I don't pay the bureaucrat to do anything illegal - I just pay him to have my contracts on the top of his huge pile of papers each morning!" hissed the company owner. "The government bureaucracy is so slow it costs thousands of dollars in delays to work. I pay someone off to have my contracts get through faster, which saves the government money in the cost of building their hospital  anyway!"
Interesting point that - speed money. Bribery, or corruption...or just a facilitating fee to an underpaid, inefficient public servant who knows that if he does speed up his work rate - the 'speed' money will slow down.

So an underpaid official leverages his position to ensure supplicants offer up the cash!

Just prior to flying to Ecuador, I had read on a Tripadvisor Africa forum thread of a corruption incident. "Madam, I am the official. I can hold on to your passport until you miss your plane. $100 please."
The writer of the post went on to say she paid up.

While waiting for my passport, these incidents and others came to mind. Petty official corruption. 

How do we mere ordinary travellers combat official corruption? 

Perhaps there is a way!
Miniaturized secret surveillance technology is so small, almost undetectable, very cheap, and so readily available these days!  Spy pens and spy key chains are now being sold as low as $29 if you shop around.
Now imagine being able to record when a jumped up toad of a corrupt border official extorts cash from you?

Wouldn't you be doing everyone a favour by recording it, uploading it to YouTube and plastering the incident across social media and embarrassing his bosses to take action against him, and in doing so making it known we can all now do the same?"

We can fight back against them! We ordinary people can discipline them and help put an end to this corruption!
Soon every official is going to become aware that anyone can be carrying a small surveillance device and think twice about their wee scams.

Sure many readers are going to protest about this post. But it is already happening- there's a huge amount of them sold. Who do you think is buying these cheap $25 pens? It's a multi-million dolar business.  This technology is with us - we are going to have to learn to live with knowing that at any time someone may be videoing you.
As with any new technology, there is always an upside and a downside. 

The upside is that we can help stamp out corruption in many places by secret surveillance and uploading to Youtube to expose this extortion.
My expansive train of thought about what I was possibly facing was broken into as my passport arrived and the questioning started afresh
"Your passport says you are a shoemaker. You seem to have travelled many places for a shoemaker."
"Yes Senor. I have." . Border officials have asked this question before. Do I launch into how a shoemaker's passport is nearly full of visas? He'll just up the bribe demand anyway.
"Is this your bag senor?"
"No Senor. It is not my bag."
"Your name is on this bag."
"It is my name on the check-in luggage tag but it is not my bag senor."
"If your name is on this bag, it must be yours."
"No senor. It is not my Bag."

The security inspector opens the bag, reaches in and pulls out... ladies clothing!

"This bag Senor...whose bag is it?"
"My wife's bag Senor. Obviously the checked luggage labels have been placed on the wrong bags when we checked in together, Senor."
(He probably thinks I'm a very weird guy....)
A very quiet security inspector makes a quick cursory check of my bag and signals the inspection is over and I am free to go...back to the departure gate and a very worried wife who was ready to ring the embassy!

Wow, did we have a grand laugh as our tension released with gales of laughter when I told her it was her clothes that were pulled out! Passengers must have thought we were very weird!

NB: Not at any stage did any Guayaquil security inspector make any gesture of bribery. It was just a random checked-in bag inspection I was told later. This story is about how I thought, reacted and perceived possible events at the time, and I do not wish to slander the guards who keep our airlines safe.

As for my spy video sunglasses, well I truly hope they do the trick and help unmask that government official who is corrupt! 



Go, See, Write said...

Jim, I guess I am confused. You write the entire post as if there is some sort of rampant corruption endemic to this particular area -- and have plans for people to avoid this sort of government corruption -- but in the end, there wasn't a hint of any corruption. Just a typical security check on a bag that could happen anywhere in the world.

I guess I am just confused about the whole corruption angle in this post, since in the end, there wasn't even a whiff of it in reality.

Jim said...

I write the post about my thoughts and feelings at the time to a totally unexpected situation. And there is that disclaimer at the bottom.

Corruption does happen, has happened to travellers and maybe we can fight back by exposing them.

Nancie said...

Do you think that they "tagged" because they thought you were a cross dresser:)

I want a pair of those glasses!

Turtle said...

I wonder whether uploading a video of corruption to youtube would actually have an effect? I get the feeling that in the places corruption occurs, it's quite endemic. If the bosses are in on the act, why would they care? And that's assuming these people even know what youtube is or would ever come across the video.
It's a nice sentiment but perhaps a misguided one?