Wednesday, November 21, 2007

How Things Work

In Ukraine, you can always "get things done." But, the Ukrainian approach to making things work breeds corruption that is palpable. A mundane example regularly occurs outside our window. Cars are not supposed to park along Prospekt Svobody (except for autos like the one we have dubbed "Ticketmaster" that advertises and sells tickets to all sorts of shows. We have used its services regularly, and you can see it parked with posters on its windshield in the pictures below). The men charged with the duty of keeping the streets safe from illegally parked cars are the crew of the Evacuator, the large flatbed vehicle with a crane that prowls L'viv for its prey. Once the crew of the Evacuator spies an offending vehicle, they pull up close to it, attach the car to large straps, and load it onto the back to take away. As the vehicle is hauled off, the crew leaves a sign on the ground telling the driver where to get the impounded auto.

At least, this is how it is supposed to work. We have watched this process several dozen times, and most of the time, it follows this pattern. The Evacuator crew finds a car and begins to slowly prepare it for loading, making sure to set off the car alarm. They continue to load up the vehicle at a leisurely pace, until, all of a sudden, the angry driver runs out and loudly talks to the men, weaving together some kind of excuse for the offending car's presence on Prospekt Svobody. The leader of the crew "shakes hands" with the driver, and then, for no obvious reason, the car is offloaded. Of course, one man's "handshake" is another man's covert transfer of cash.

To illustrate, first you see the Evacuator slowly loading up a minivan:

Next, you see the owner in the tan jacket running to his vehicle:

He identifies the crew leader:

And "greets" him (near the passenger side door). His minivan is then taken off the flatbed:

Of course, the civil servants charged with the duty of clearing cars make a pittance, and the money they get from drivers helps pay the bills. The driver gets off cheap, too. It is not only less costly to pay off the workers, but it is also less time consuming.

The notion that there is always another way to get something done permeates government, business, education, and every nook and cranny of Ukrainian society. Yuliya Tymoshenko accuses Viktor Yanukovych's party of bribing members of parliament so that they will not support her bid to become prime minister (this claim is unsubstantiated and controversial, but one of the stated reasons for the dissolution of parliament and early elections was this activity directed at the president's party members). Educators and students whisper about the pervasive bribery in higher education, an institution producing "professionals" whose credentials are only paper - the money it took to buy the degree and the degree itself.
This norm of behavior is why Ukraine ranks 118 in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, and it is one of the reasons why this lovely country is often such a desperate mess.

No comments: