My initiation into a morally bankrupt society

Published: May 30, 2012

“Sir, at the end of the day, even over there, you will be delayed if you do not give some ‘kharcha pani’ (bribe). Those who do are preferred over those who don’t.” PHOTO: AFP

A few days back, taking advantage of my weekly holiday, I decided to renew my passport. Fearing that a late arrival at the passport office would lead to having to wait in a never ending line, I made sure I reached the premises at around 8 am.

Having paid the renewal fee of Rs3,000, I joined a few others, who also wanted to take advantage of the early hours.

At the same time, there were many ‘shady’ agents outside, who were keen on offering their ‘expertise’ for down-the-table payment. I brushed them off, thinking that after all; it was only a matter of getting the passport renewed.

Who needed to indulge in a bribe?

What I didn’t realise was that I was about to learn my first practical lesson for survival in a Pakistani society.

What followed was a real encounter with the wretched moral carcass of our society.

At about 9 am, the doors of the facility opened and we were asked to form a queue.

When my turn came, to my utter surprise, one of the lower staff officers did not allow me to enter, citing the fact that my NIC was from a district, which was administered by the Saddar branch only.

The same official had taken a look at my NIC earlier too, when I had asked him for advice, upon arrival. At that time, he had not informed me of any such prospective problem.

Disappointed to have wasted my day, I turned to leave; it was too late to go to the other branch now and start the whole process there from scratch.

As I started to leave, one of the agents approached me and told me straight up;

“Sir, your passport can be made from here and you do not need to worry at all.”

I was surprised at his optimism but he continued,

“A payment of Rs1,000 will solve the problem sir, Rs200 will be my share and the rest go to the ‘kitty’”

I weighed my options.

What could I do?

Should I just go home, come at a later date, for another experience of having to wait in line, just to have my passport renewed or should I just hand him the money and be done with it now? I was in a fix.

The agent opposite me, reading my mind, clarified the matter for me stating,

“Sir, at the end of the day, even over there, you will be delayed if you do not give some ‘kharcha pani’ (bribe). Those who do are preferred over those who don’t.”

I made my decision.

I was a part of a morally moribund society, where ‘money’ was the only power. Moral didactics were better left to textbooks and flimsy dreams of a utopia that didn’t exist; I was a part of society which had taken its last breath of morality and principles quite a long time ago.

Upon assenting, an official from inside the building came to receive me.

Within the next thirty minutes, all the processes of data entry, picture taking, biometric fingerprints and passport verification were expedited and I was done.

While those who had come with me still waited at different points in the whole inefficient process, I was done.

The official who had barred me earlier was unable to look me in the eye throughout the event.

I came back and made the payment.

The agent noticed my father’s picture in the wallet, with him donning an army uniform.

As cherry on top of the icing, the man looked at me and eagerly exclaimed,

“Oh sir, you are a fool, you should have asked your father to come along with you. All of these officials work straightforwardly only when they see an army wala!’

I shook my head with disgust and went off.

I had given a bribe to the ‘system’ and this was my first occasion of having done so. I felt I had wronged but I did not feel the guilt for it.

I felt like I had just been initiated into a society I never knew I would have to be a part of.

Read more by Taimur here.

Taimur Arbab

Taimur Arbab

A former sub-editor at The Express Tribune, college teacher of Sociology and English Literaure and LUMS alumni, who leans toward the left side of the political spectrum and looks for ideas for his short stories and poems in the everyday happenings of life. He tweets @arbab333 (twitter.com/arbab333).

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sara

    “Oh sir, you are a fool, you should have asked your father to come along with you. All of these officials work straightforwardly only when they see an army wala!’

    Fairly obvious here that your father’s institution is part of the root of the problem. Recommend

  • BlackJack

    Fair point – the system piles up the odds against taking the honest choice until it just isn’t worth it; at the end of the story, you are left with both a heavier heart and a lighter pocket. I remember when I had just started working in Bangalore, I used to go to work by bike – and once ended up travelling the wrong way on Lavelle Rd (they kept changing the direction of traffic in those days). The cops knew that business would be brisk that day, and I was soon flagged by a constable – who listened to my lamentations in broken Kannada impassively, and finally asked for INR 50 as a bribe. I decided not to accept and asked him to give me a challan instead – to which he replied that it would cost me INR 300! I sheepishly paid the bribe and slunk away, but even now, 9 years later, can remember the smirk on the man’s face at succeeding in bringing me down to his level.Recommend

  • Parvez

    For society to reach the level of moral bankruptcy that you see around you, takes decades of neglect by those responsible for governing. The mindset of the so called responsible ones has always been to feather their own nests and ensure their own security. Over the years this attitude has filtered down the ‘food chain’ and is explained as ‘survival’.Recommend

  • Shahid Ashraf

    Well, I don’t blame the writer for anything but would like to share my own experience. In the same society I have had made my first passport without giving any bribe and any extra money. Though it took about 4 to 5 hours, it was all very smooth rather the Officer on Duty, allowed me to bring original NIC of my mother (which I had forgot) and then took my documents without having to be in the queue again. I didn’t pay any bribe to anybody neither I used any reference of an “influential” person nor the officer knew me personally.

    Fiver years later, I had my passport renewed (this time machine readable) in less than 30 minutes without any reference or giving any bribe. Same goes to my other documents like NIC (later CNIC), driving license etc. I also encountered agents and officials who demanded “kharcha paani” but I refused and though with some difficulty I was finally able to get my work done at actual cost.

    So, while I agree sometimes people get caught with such situation where they have no other way but to bribe, people can get things done without this too. The society is made up of individuals and we individuals only can make it better again. Every drop counts! If each one of us start to change ourselves, one day we’ll have more good people than bad.Recommend

  • Omair Shakil

    While there is no denying that getting around in Pakistan isn’t easy unless you’re prepared to buy your way through, the author had no compulsions on him to bribe the agent. When I got my passport renewed I had the option to enter through the back door too. In fact one of my friend’s knew the powers-that-be and could have facilitated my passport renewal. But I stood in line from 7:30 AM till 1:30 PM just because I wanted to get it done the right way.
    Of course once I got in I proceeded to the GM’s office and went postal on him as thirty people looked on. The right path is never easy. The author chickened out and gave in. Period.Recommend

  • http://islamabad abc

    two wrongs never make it right!

    you should have come back, and the next day should have gone to Saddar .
    trust me , only then u would be able to feel the sense of achievement .

    for me renewing passport had 02 options , Rs.200 to be paid as bribe or go back home
    and i went back home, took a day off from work , me n my husband both
    woke up early in the morning, we were the 1st ones to enter the bank and then waited in the queues for passport……
    but trust me …we held ours head high and felt proud Recommend

  • Aristo

    Welcome to the jungle, where survival of the fittest is the only system that prevails.Recommend

  • Imran Con

    Worst part is they’re so open about it that law enforcement could just send a guy in with plain clothes and they’d have all the evidence they need to make it stop yet they don’t. That implies the corruption spans pretty widely across institutions. They wouldn’t be able to be so casual if they were worried about it.Recommend

  • Salman Arshad

    So you didn’t know that you never had to use bribes before because of your fathers institution?Recommend

  • Ali tanoli

    I guess after they made coputerized NIC these is less Bribery is going i have made my family
    passports last year and there was no problem even Kalia bhai asked me for 500 rupees but i told him i am from karachi and no one can stop me to obtain my passports.Recommend

  • Remarkable!

    You said: I shook my head with disgust and went off.
    Basically, you had the audacity to be disgusted at the other individual, whilst giving a bribe yourself? Lol. And you actually managed to justify your actions in your head. Remarkable! In the end, I would just like to say that after reading this article, I shook my head with disgust and went off. Recommend

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  • derpton

    @Sara: How exactly Army the problem here ? I’m guessing you belong to the bunch who blame ‘everything’ at Army. Grow up !Recommend

  • Mano

    Having experienced the same thing very recently, I can actually sympathize with you. I had taken my mother for her passport and after getting humiliated (literally), I decided to use the agent as I couldn’t let my mother stand any longer in the hot and utterly unorganized passport office. Recommend

  • Yuri Kondratyuk

    @Aristo:

    Welcome to the jungle, where survival of the fittest is the only system that prevails.

    This in a decidedly pro-creationist country!Recommend

  • Yousuf

    It’s nice to know you finally went outside the house for the first time.Recommend

  • Arsalan J. Sheikh

    The sad part is that these people (as with most lower level civilian bureaucrats) are paid so little that they cannot survive on their salaries alone. So most senior officials while designing and monitoring the system have to turn a blind eye to these factors.Recommend

  • kaalchakra

    Whatever one may say, there is far less corruption in the military than among civilians. Wish the society was more like the army and honest officers of Pakistani military.Recommend

  • Ammara K

    I faced the similar situation when I went to get my pass port made for the first time. Since I went alone, and the issue could not be delayed any further, I had to pay the same amount and the process took no more than an hour. I never realized I was paying bribe until I read your article. True! This society is morally corrupt!Recommend

  • Umair Ahmed Baig

    The fact is you gave up too early
    I had a similar experience when I had to get my equivalency, it took me 7 attempts at the board office to get it and each time they asked me for bribe but I didn’t gave it to them, you just have to be firm and and resolute in what you think is right……..Change cannot come if we start accepting things that happen around us and be a part of it.Recommend

  • Sheharyar

    @author

    It’s people like you who add to the moral bankruptcy of our society. You should have never given the bribe in the first place, which will only help in encouraging the agent to carry on this despicable act. Should’ve held your head high and gone to the Saddar branch instead.Recommend

  • A Manto fan

    Hmm—I would have prly done the same you know why because money is the real power in society.
    To all those puritans abv who say they would have done otherwise, I ask; really, really so?
    So, you bunch of guys have never paid a bribe to a traffic wala! or to have your grade elevated in the matriculation system (someone did that for his child who got into a uni while mine, a more capable one, rotted away in drugs) or have not witnesses ppl in influence in the pakistani society getting away with everything from university admissions to job placements?
    No?—then you are all puffed-up liars and hypocrites who suffer from complex cases of short memories.
    Thank you Taimur for showing our real face in the mirror! But beware, the faces you are trying to illuminate are too deranged for the liking of this country—they never respected Manto till he was alive because he showed their society as it was—-pathetic, immoral and puffed-up
    I am 60-year-old war veteran who has seen this country evolve—and I see hope when I see young people like you pulling away the lids from their faces—you have been honest, always be that but still, beware…Recommend

  • Zamir Malik

    @Aristo: Sorry to say it is not Survival of the fittest. You can say about it in Europe and America but for Pakistan it is like Survival of the Most Opportunist and most Corrupt.Recommend

  • http://Karachi ashar

    @A Manto fan:

    60 year old war veteran! thats you have called yourself. Interesting. Well, analysing your age, you would have only one lost battle in your account in 1971 in the capacity of Leutenant, at the most. And you could not be in Kargil since you would be a commanding officer by then.

    you have criticized on the clerks of Passport offices. How about the Forces. I tell you the environment there is not different than the passport office.Recommend

  • Sheharyar

    @A Manto fan

    I have never given a bribe in my life.
    I have faced circumstances similar to the author’s, and chose to take the longer route instead.
    Calling the above commentators who disagreed with the author’s views is quite immature on your part, to be honest.Recommend

  • Dante

    Through this “bribe” you aren’t depriving anyone else or murdering any morals. All you are doing is getting some help.

    That’s what they call business.Recommend

  • S. Zafar Iqbal

    As the saying goes: “The fish’s rot starts from the head”.
    What do you expect in a kleptocracy?Recommend

  • Faisal Jamil

    I was at the passport office 2 weeks back, rejected all approaching agents, got in with complete documents, went through the process as per my turn and was done in an hour. Make sure you meet the requirements and be confident. Recommend

  • Cynical

    Even god accepts bribe(so it is believed).
    Ever heard of ‘mannat’?Recommend

  • Waqas

    Not the best idea to give in on the first temptation though. And then write about it in a condescending way – doesn’t really put you in good light.

    Also, that guy would have no problem in looking you in the eyes all day long. Stop fooling yourself.Recommend

  • Milestogo

    It’s not bribe – its tax.Recommend

  • Mawali

    This folks is a glaring in your face example of most Pakistani’ who are eager to play the victim card while calling names to the immoral majority. This man chose convenience over ethics. Then, he had the chutzpah to look down on his partners in crime! Chuloo bhar panee seems most appropriate here!Recommend

  • Mustafa Moiz

    Welcome to the Tribune, where out of that whole article, the one thing everybody pounced on was the line mentioning the Army.Recommend

  • S. Zafar Iqbal

    As the saying goes: “The fish rot starts from the head”.
    What do you expect in a kleptocracy.Recommend

  • http://www.salmanzq.com salman

    why blame the author? Not everyone has all day to spend on these things. I tried sorting out a mess on my NICOP last time I was in Pakistan (a problem they created) and was sent from one office to another, spending a week running around. Finally gave up and got it sorted in minutes through someone I knew (I had initially declined that help). The Pakistani society is morally bankrupt and until we acknowledge it we can’t fix it. Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    http://changinguppakistan.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/picture-2.png

    You have to sign this disgusting document, where you are discriminating against a whole section of society, stripping off their very identity, adding to the injustice committed against them and you think bribery is the passport office is your biggest problem.

    Pakistani society is not morally bankrupt because a few people asked for a bribe, because the discrimination is so institutionalized, so deeply embedded into the Pakistani psyche, that you don’t even notice it anymore. Recommend

  • Qasim

    what a load of crab justifying his complacency and moral wrong he committed. I did also got my passport renewed last month and I made sure I ignored all agents. I simply reached there earlier and was the first in line, (albeit these “qaid-e-azam ki line” ppl went before me, but atleast I was the first to initiate the renewal process on merit). The whole process is very streamlined and hardly takes 30 minutes, so it’s just a matter of reaching earlier and being the first in line.

    I did’nt pay a penny extra to anyone, and got my whole renewal process completed within a matter of minutes. I choose to stick to principles and not bribe, and I am proud of my decision.

    You simply choose to bribe because you were too lazy to go to saddar branch.. and you blame the system and moral injustice!
    Recommend

  • Disloyal

    Mujhe bata diya hota to itna problem hi nhi hota, my friend works there. Anyone wants a new passport or renewal, just gimme a call. ;)Recommend

  • Rizwana

    Being in foreign country i know that even here you can be sent back to bring extra documents or sent to another office. So what is the big deal about it? It seems the author was lazy and he thought “oh mainey sharif bannay ki koshish kar li ab time for rishwat” You should have atleast tried 3 to 4 times, even then justifying giving a bribe would not be ok. I have done all my documents in Pakistan without any bribe. Yes they can be nasty at times and make you go back and forth, but they get it done in the end. Recommend

  • awellwisher

    I know it is difficult to be honest and be against bribing, but unless people stop enabling these corrupt officials by agreeing to the bribes the evil of corruption will only grow. So, it it not just the bribe takers that are at fault but equally guilty are the bribe givers. Recommend

  • Vigilant

    Society is full of good & bad elements…..i have seen situations when Army General’s daughter-in-law was made to stand in long queue even repeating several times his name and designation……..have seen senator’s daughter to skip driving test at Islamabad traffic Police center for her license…….

    As some of gentlemen earlier commented that it’s not easy to adopt right path……you should have been patient and by giving bribe u now official part of morally bankrupt society Recommend

  • abhi

    people asking the author to have tried again are not getting the main point. Why after paying Rs 200 the same document worked and he got his passport renewed? If the document were really required passport should have issued even after paying bribe. why such rules are not published so that common man should not be troubled?Recommend

  • Shyam

    I remember trying to get my late dads house re-registered in my moms name at Delhi Development Authority. Each time we went they kept sending us back for more documents. Finally tired of the whole thing I approached a very very senior officer at DDA through an acquaintance. He told me frankly that I will have to pay the bribe or my file will not be moved ahead. The fixed price was INR 5500 for re-registrations, and I had to pay it to the clerk or my file would just ‘disappear’. Since there was a very organised way in which the bribe was distributed among the entire staff and each staff member would get a fixed share based on his position. Hence the clerk even if he did not want to, he would have to take the bribe or risk being shunted out.

    I paid the bribe and everything was done quickly smoothly and efficientlyRecommend

  • Farhan

    @ashar:
    I am a military person and for sure petty corruption (small bribes to by pass laws) does not exist there at all. Recommend

  • O’reily

    Don’t blame the system when you become a part of it. Recommend

  • Ahmed HM

    I went to the same place for passport renewal just 3 months back and I preferred to stay in line. In 2007, the process was transparent and it took me only 2 hours for the whole process and everything was clean.

    There are people of all classes in that area. The poor and middle class people do not wish to spend a 1000 rupees above, and they prefer standing in lines and try to cope up with the torture. Its people with money, the people who cannot bear any pressure or pain, and the elite mafia who introduced this concept. Recommend

  • Ahmed HM

    After reading it, I have this for you:

    ‘ I shook my head with disgust and went off. ‘Recommend

  • Troll-face

    Only passport office? LOL – Its every department.Recommend

  • Ambreen

    I know people may disagree but can “bribing” someone to get what is rightfully yours be truly called a bribe? For those saying they got their passport renewed without a bribe, days and circumstances are different. And I would agree in a society like ours where people run a red light when there is no police walas, presence of the army has become necessary. Things were much better under the army rule than they are under the current one….Recommend

  • Farhan

    When NADRA itself has an express counter where urgent passports are delivered at higher price, why its employees are being lamented for enabling an unofficial express counter. Pay more, get early. Why not speak against both? Why target the unofficial corrupt practices

    Pakistanis are used to paying more to get double speed. It frustrates them once abroad, they find no way of accelerating a process by putting more money on the tableRecommend

  • Aamir M

    I can relate to the writer. I had the same feeling of feeding this corrupt system when I went for my driver’s license. This ‘kharcha paani’ trait is in every institute and rooted deep in its foundation. If one person refuses to pay up, it would not make any difference to them as the next guy in the line might.Recommend

  • Syme

    @ author, you are whining because you can’t get up early. Probably someone has rightly said in above comment section that you went out of the home for the first time. Thanks to NADRA that you have to visit the passport office otherwise “Dad’s Army” would have insisted on a home delivery of the usual old passport.
    I went to the office one fine morning, stood in the line and everything as done before I start whining about the heat about 10:30. The key points to remember are, the population of country, forget about your social class, submit the money a day before going for identification etc.You can have your Machine readable passport renewal from anywhere.
    There is one more thing you can do is to lodge the complain and then see what happen but why would you have dared to lodge the complain because you are bluffing.
    P.S I am an ordinary citizen. Recommend

  • Usman Khalid

    @author… i didn’t read the all the comments… however you statement “I made my decision” said it all.. if you don’t want to bribe, you can go to other district and get your work done from there… another point about long queues at our government offices… it’s because of more people coming to the office that the number of people getting their work done… only way to rectify this problem is to make new offices to each teshil and more than one office in each city… which obviously need more capital that we don’t have. So it’s not system which is wrong… it’s people like you (and me.. obviously) who does wrong to save time instead of standing in queues. Recommend

  • Zeeshan

    @Sara:
    dunno if you are ignorant or refuse to understand things ,he implied that they show straightforwardness and efficiency when only armymen arearound ,and no i don’t agree army should run the country but with democracy like this ,its free for all .Army is not corrupt (exceptions are everywhere) and certainly not the ‘root’ of all problems .Sometimes I wonder if people write anti-pakistan just to get likes from the largest readership from across the border on ET. Recommend

  • Muhammad

    But then again, we call ourselves an “Islamic Country” LOLLLLLLRecommend

  • raw is war

    welcome to South Asia.Recommend

  • http://ShahHayat.blogspot.com/ Shah Hayat Ahmad

    I’m terribly sorry but there’s absolutely no need to criticize enablers/promoters/agents here. The first time I got a Machine Readable Passport made was from the NADRA office at the Awami Markaz. The next time 5 years later when I went to get my passport renewed at Awami Markaz there I too had paid the fee and was informed afterwards that Distt. Karachi-South Passports have now been shifted to the old Passport Office in Saddar. So yeah I went there at 8:00 on a weekday and Incidentally I was the first one in – I was interviewed and photographed etc. and out of there by 9:20. They accepted the same NBP slip which was issued at the Awami Markaz Branch. And I got my Passport within the week. No agents – no handlers.

    @Farhan: I’m terribly sorry to inform you that the said system exists everywhere. It’s called market segmentation and that’s how governments and everyone else makes money. In the USA particularly you have registered agents who perform the very same functions. They’re called Passport Expediting agents and they’ll charge a service fee on top of the Government Passport Fees. For instance it costs about roughly $135 to reissue a US Passport but an expediting company would charge you $250 on top of that and get you the same in the same day i.e. you pay $385 for a $135 passport. If you want it done within 10 days the same expediting company would charge you something like $60 on top and you end up paying $195.

    That’s how it works the world over. Apply for immigration and you’ll be lucky to get even an interview call int the next 3 years – pump in half a million dollars and you’ll have a passport within that very same period – that is the US.Recommend

  • Ali

    I think the person writing this article is a person who sees problem with others only……. i think he agreed to some thing (Bribe) which is morally as well as religiously wrong and instead of feeling ashamed on this is critising the people whom he bribed…… if you were so rightfull you should have tried to find a way out …. but instead you choose a easier exit and placed all the wrong deeds on some one elses shoulders…… i regret that people of my country have gone so shameless that they do something wrong for there own convinence and than write a article about it as well……Recommend

  • Ghulam

    Also the army is also corrupt. My bhanoi is a contracter and he openly tells me he pays bribes to acquire land and play with the regulations.Recommend

  • Sane

    @Writer
    So, you also used the money power and fueled the ‘system’ to which you criticize.Recommend