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Gints Salaks – Reflection

by on October 29, 2007

GRATITUDE GIFT – REFLECTION

In today’s reflection I would like to talk about what was brought up during one of the classes regarding what bribes and gratitude gifts mean in different cultures. As more people and corporations conduct business transactions across multiple borders in diverse cultures, different understandings regarding the tolerability of bribery generate ethical conflicts. Because our mind is shaped by our culture, many times when we travel across the world or see some discouraging international broadcast, we automatically think that what we see is wrong and unacceptable. To help people understand and resolve contrasting attitudes towards bribery, many cross-cultural research studies and academic theories reveal that such attitudes vary according to the ethical, social, and economic dimensions of a culture. According to Paul Herbig research, “attitudes towards bribery stem from the definition of the practice in a culture. Not only the definition, but the agents, conditions, limits, purposes, and laws pertaining to bribery vary among countries in the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia.”

For example, in July of 2007, The Republic of Latvia elected a new president who before becoming the president was an orthopedic doctor. Valdis Zatlers was a well known doctor within Latvia and president of Riga’s orthopedic clinic, a very reputable hospital. Before he actually got elected, many asked how legitimate he is because many patients came forward and said that he accepted gratitude gifts from them. Even the Department of Income was involved and discussed the situation with Mr. Zatlers. Officially the law states that it is illegal to accept any gifts if you are employed by the state. In Latvia most of the medical positions are provided by the government, as the result, Mr. Zatlers illegally accepted gratitude gifts. But the other side of the story is that it is commonly accepted in Eastern European societies to give gratitude gifts to either speed up the process of getting something or somewhere.

So currently Mr. Zatlers has reached an agreement with the Department of Income that all his previously accepted gratitude gifts will be declared in his income and he will pay off the tax. Which brings up the question, is it acceptable for other public servants to accept gifts while they are in government or public positions? This issue is very common, but difficult to resolve. As I already mentioned, the law states that you can’t accept any gifts, but the culture allows it. I believe that the issue here in Latvia and other post communism countries is post communism syndrome. During the Iron Curtain era, one could achieve something only by bribing some higher positioned leader. Latvia is relatively new country and will eventually eliminate bribery, but for now it remains, a coin with two faces – it is illegal on paper but socially acceptable. Personally I think that the persistence of massive, inefficient bureaucracies in many countries such as Russia, Eastern Europe, and some nations of Asia may support bribery by paying inadequate salaries to the state employed and by poorly controlling commercial activities. Thus, individuals seek ways to supplement their income, making accepting bribes very tempting. Today Latvia tries to bring the standard of living up, but as they do so a new problem emerges, inflation.

The individuals and businesses that conduct commerce in foreign countries should not only adapt to local environments and rules, but also enforce international business ethics standards. These business standards regarding gift giving, grease payments, middlemen commissions, and other forms of bribery will encourage and show the local governments and business that playing a fair game is better.

It is proven fact that economic progress initiates ethical changes in a culture. Today when Latvia and many other Eastern Europe countries have joined the European Union, the standard of living is going up and economic development ultimately diminishes a people’s tolerance for corruption and bribery within government organizations. As Paul Herbig notes in his research, “perhaps as the world incomes equalize, ethical standards will also converge”.

Even though bribe might help some business in a short term, in a long term it not only ruins reputation, but also destroys healthy competition and economical growth. Individuals and businesses going to foreign countries should consider what impact they will leave on local social-economical environment if they decide to give bribes.

Resources: 1. Herbig, Paul. The Influence of Culture on Bribery: Some Ethical, Socio-political and Economic Considerations.

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