By Habtamu Alebachew
One may identify seven ‘invalid excuses’ held by a good majority of citizens in Ethiopia favoring rent collection, even, public corruption, as normal and acceptable, which corrupt officials also use to justify their rent seeking moves.
Rent seeking behavior in Ethiopia’s context is a social mentality that tempts to justify rent collection and public corruption as excusable acts. By this, rent-seeking behavior as a potential creates favorable conditions for actual rent collection and corruption acts.
Periodic assessments there are well-entrenched rent seeking values of excuse common among several elite Ethiopians that any one interested researcher could rightly find at random interviews across the road.
Let us see seven of these major invalid excuses or values.
Excuse 1. “Rent collection or corruption is everywhere. Japan has it, Holland has it, the United States has it. There is nothing you can do about something endemic. Ethiopia is never an exception to this rule.”
But this is a deadly wrong value. Consider, for example, health. Illness is everywhere, too. And yet no one concludes that efforts to prevent and treat illness should therefore be curtailed. Like illness, the levels and types of rent collection and corruption vary greatly, and preventive and curative measures make a difference.
Excuse 2. “Rent collection and corruption have always existed. Like sin, it’s part of human nature. You can’t do anything about it. We Ethiopians are also human beings as well as poor people.”
Again, the observation is correct, while the conclusion is invalid. Because that sin exists does not mean that it exists in each of us to the same degree, and the same holds for rent collection and corruption.
We can constrain opportunities for rent seeking behavior that breeds corruption, even if the tendency is perennial. Quality education and devoted scholarship for example has a big contribution making a break between the past, present and future generation, even though this is again questionable.
Evidently, there are Ethiopians within the low income category but never have intentions whatsoever to involve themselves in rent collection and corrupt practices.
Excuse 3. “The concept of rent collection, leave alone, corruption, is vague and culturally determined. In some cultures, the behavior that bothers one is not considered corrupt. Fighting rent seeking and corruption smacks of cultural imperialism. In Ethiopia, it is not wrong to give rewards for positive services as a sign of satisfaction. Can we call this rent collection?”
The truth is quite different. In fact, no culture condones bribery. Anthropological studies indicate that local people are perfectly capable of distinguishing between a gift and a bribe, and they condemn bribery. Gifts unnecessarily handed by service claiming citizens of any category specifically to government decision makers today are unquestionably known by the ordinary citizen to be guarantees to ask for some corrupt advantage tomorrow.
Excuse 4. “Cleansing our society of rent seeking behavior and corruption would require a wholesale change of attitudes and values. This can only take place after [the polemicist’s choice: a hundred years of education,] a new generation of wealthy Ethiopians emerge within at least two centuries. Anything less will be futile.”
As we currently observe, the record of moralization campaigns is not encouraging as rent collection and corruption are much wider in perception than the actual practice across Ethiopia.
However, in the meantime there are ways to close loopholes, create incentives and deterrents, augment accountability and competition, and improve the rules of the game through the proliferation of role models among government leaders, scholars, etc, to the opposite.