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From the October 2001 issue of World Press Review

“Baksheesh Mentality” in Germany

Hans-Ludwig Zachert, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (conservative), Frankfurt, Germany, July 30, 2001

“Germany is sinking farther down the corruption list,” says Transparency International in Berlin. Its report states that Germany has slipped down to 20th place in the ranking of 91 countries, after falling from 14th to 17th last year. This steady downward trend reflects irregularities in party financing, graft in government offices, corruption proceedings against civil servants and top people in well-known public institutions, shenanigans in the awarding of construction contracts, dubious bank transactions related to contributions, and favors accepted by top politicians.

We Germans have been accustomed in the past, not without considerable smugness and even arrogance, to look down on the “baksheesh mentality” in other countries. However, the large number of press accounts about bribery cases, and the cases filed by the police and the public prosecutors, prove that there are no grounds for such complacency.

Corruption cases of the most varied kinds can be found all over Germany. For cash, you can get market stalls (Düsseldorf) and visas for Chinese citizens (Berlin). Whoever antes up the most gets a concession for a hotel or a casino. You can buy driver’s licenses (Mainz and Frankfurt am Main) and residence permits (Hamburg, Saarbrücken) that involve fake marriages and falsified entries in the city registry. For a bribe you can get contracts for car towing and insider information. Other areas especially susceptible to corruption include the award of commissions paid out of public funds and procurement contracts, such as purchases of security equipment for police forces (Düsseldorf and Hanover), and deliveries to government cafeterias.

You pay for construction permits and contracts to paint the striping on roads and highways (Hanover, Dresden) as well as for municipal garbage-removal contracts (Frankfurt am Main) and contracts to provide housing for asylum seekers. The construction industry in many German cities has been rife with corruption for years. Graft payments are factored into the price structure. Such practices can’t help distorting the operation of a free market, the economic system, and business ethics. An honest businessman can’t survive wherever graft is part of the picture.

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