Police Bribery near Fianarantsao
Police Bribery near Fianarantsao: From Antananarivo towards Fianarantsao 420km further south I wondered why there was a stack of the daily newspaper L’Express on the dashboard in front of the driver. I thought first they may be there for passengers but as we escaped the traffic of the capital towards the countryside the pile remained where it was. It was not until we had gotten south of the first big city on the route Antsirabe that their use became apparent.
There were numerous police and gendarmerie stops on the road all the way to Fianarantsao with most of the police waving us through in the first part of the journey. I was travelling in what turned out to be the gold standard of public in Madagascar, the Cotisse taxi brousse company. Their buses generally don’t attract attention from the numerous officials on the road and we breezed through many without a second glance from the uniformed government employees.
As we got closer to Fianarantsao we did pull up at these stops, but only to drop off a newspaper. At one point there were 2 police in their hut having a chat and not paying too much attention to what was going on outside so our driver beeped the horn and one of the police came out. He saluted the driver, took the paper and went back inside the hut as we pulled away.
This was my first time witnessing what could be seen as police bribery near Fianarantsao at first hand. Lower level it may be, it gave me the feeling of some kind of arrangement between the taxi brousse company and the police to ensure minimal hassle at any checks.
While doing some research for my book I found numerous reliable sources saying bribes at police stops are allegedly rouitine1. With the Cotisse company you get a sense of the corruption but when you travel with the normal taxi brousse operators you get more of a first-hand view. As I continued my journey south from the town of Fianarnatsao to Ranohira, to organise the Makay hike, I ended up on a bus which was stopped at nearly every checkpoint for the 280 kilometres I was on board.
One of the most amusing was just after we pulled out of the town of Ambalavao near Andringtra national park where we had loaded more goods to accompany the bulging baskets of lychees already on there. The driver didn’t even have a chance to get into second gear when he was pulled over by a policeman who immediately began gesturing at the tower which had been built on top of the bus. After we pulled in the driver handed his documents to the official in a brown leather folder. The policeman scanned the documents and suddenly all was in order. Now, I’m no detective but I think the solution may have been found in some notes in the drivers folder instead of a valid explanation of why the load was so high. This happened numerous times until I got off the bus at Ranohira.
Watching the reaction of the bus drivers when we were stopped was interesting in itself. They were always courteous and polite even if we had been stopped numerous time in the previous few kilometres which happened around larger towns and cities. Bribes may have been passed at many of these points depending on whatever faults the official could find on the bus. After business had been taken care of the driver could often be heard muttering under his breath in frustration at all of this even if outwardly he could not show this to the men in uniform.
In conversations with some of the drivers or guides I met along the way they all agreed police bribery in Fianarantsao is a huge problem like corruption generally in Madagascar. One guide I discussed this with said he had the opportunity to become a policeman because of his sporting ability but he thought he didn’t have the personality for the way they do business so he chose to become a guide as a more guilt free way of making a living.
From a purely observational point of view most people in Madagascar have a lithe appearance while the police and gendarmerie have meatier faces of people who enjoy larger meals and have more means.
On the face of it minor corruption as a way of smoothing the passage by handing out newspapers is mildly amusing but on a more serious note this is indicative of very widespread problem in the politics and the civil service. Smuggling of animals, sapphires and illegal logging are big problems in Madagascar. The vast majority of these illegal operations are known to the government with many even giving a helping hand by allowing smuggled items to pass freely through the country and onward towards foreign destinations.
Some people argue that illegal mining of sapphires provides food for hungry families, which it does on the short term. The reality is that local people earn a pittance for this kind of work all the while destroying the habitat of some of the most vulnerable animals on the planet, while the ones who really benefit are the people who run the operation.