Corruption: A Personal Experience

These days, we read in news about a Union Minister who is under investigation for corruption. We see people applauding at the anti-corruption committee for taking action immediately. As many of us know, our country is in deep corruption in every aspect of operation either in public or private sector, from passport office to guards at public hospitals. Most of us are familiar with countless stories on how we have to bribe people just to get things done at government offices but lesser known stories exist in private sectors too.

Before getting further, how do we define “corruption”? The built-in dictionary in my laptop defines, “Dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery.” To my understanding, any dishonest act/move done within the authority of such person is counted as corruption, so bride money is not necessarily needed to define “corruption” but generally, people do such things while seeking for more money.

Now let’s go to my personal experience with corruption in 24 years of existence. My mom started a small advertising company when I was 10 if I remembered correctly. Although we call our business “Advertising,” what the company do is to help advertising our clients’ products, but we mainly advise on how to advertise their products and produce advertising/promotional materials, unlike famous multinational advertising companies, we are not really able to provide fancily documented strategic plans. Most of our clients are distributing companies that sell food and beverage, toiletries and cosmetics but there are also some event planning companies, larger advertising agencies that outsource us for producing merchandizes, or event decorations. On the other way around, we also outsource some jobs to others if we are not able produce them on our own. Basically, the concept of “advertising company” is selling ideas and services, being agents between clients and suppliers, and making profits in the middle.

Everybody agrees that networking and maintaining connections play a crucial role in doing business. For us in advertising, one requires to keep a good relationship with procurement managers or marketing managers from the client companies, or account managers from advertising agencies so that they will keep working with us. I remembered my mom hosting dinners for those people, sometimes at restaurants and others at home. Sometimes, we went shopping together only to buy expensive shirts for those managers. (Back then, 50,000 kyats for HAZARD brand shirt at MK was pretty pricey to us.) A part from freeloading stuffs, these people demand making some profit for them between us and their companies. For instance, if an item we produce cost 100 kyats, we have to price, say, 110 kyats in the quotation so that this manager can have 10 kyats for himself/herself. I was surprised to learn that this act was not uncommon at all. In one of mom’s conversations I overheard, this account manager from one of the advertising agencies made nearly 10 lakhs between us and her company. So this was the kind of people we met from the client’s side.

Don’t be surprised when I say that our own employees did such moves too. As I mentioned above, we outsource some jobs when clients demand stuffs that we cannot produce or we are not able to provide by the time they want. In such cases, some of our employees, who are responsible for suppliers’ relations, report us back with the price that already included some profits for them. Recently, my mom found out that an employee, that I really fond of and was close with, made some profits for herself while ordering some stuffs from one of our suppliers. What surprised me was that my mom was very casual about it and not going to take any action. Having previous experiences in dealing with similar internal problem, mom tells me that the only way to not let it happen again is creating a strong bond between our suppliers and us, with that she means boss-to-boss relations so that employees will have no chance for such thing, and if needed, changing suppliers. While having that conversation, she reminds me of those account manager and marketing manager who no longer work with us. Whether their bosses fired them or chose not to work with us anymore, I don’t know.

To judge fairly, my mom did bribe people to get projects which caused corruption in our client’s company, and karma came back to us with our own employees making moves for their own benefits. Having no experience in private sector, I have little knowledge on how things work at big named companies in Yangon but learning from family business, these deeds done by my mom, our own employees and employees from the client companies seem like corruptions to me. To, you readers too, or is it just how we do business around here?

Years of bureaucracy has embedded corruption in our society. I know that the government is trying to end corruption among civil servants. Some friends and acquaintances suggest that lowering cost of living and increasing salaries will be the end of corruption but there is chain reaction in everything so how long will it take to end?

A more important question is: how do we fix our corrupted souls?

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