There are frequent references to bribery on this and other travel bulletin boards. Having travelled extensively in Africa, I would largely agree with Susan's comments above, especially about keeping a sense of humour, and remaining pleasant at all times.
Also, it is useful to distinguish between bribery and extortion, since MOST of the problems you encounter will be about extortion. not bribery.
is when you, the traveller, buy, or attempt to buy your way out of some legitimate obligation, or circumvent some legitmate legal or administrative process by paying an official personally, in cash or in kind.
is when an official attempts to trick or force you into paying something that you do not legitimately have to. Most commonly this is a made-up "tax", or a "fine" for some offence that is imaginary or exaggerated. Or it might be a subtle (or not so subtle) threat of harassment or delay, or refusal to grant some permit or authorisation that you are in fact entitled to.
My personal belief is that bribery
is unacceptable in almost all cases. If a country has some genuine administrative requirement, or tax, or regulation, then as travellers and guests we should comply with these. All the more so in countries where poverty and corruption are already problems. We add to the problems if we circumvent the legitimate regulations and taxes. Of course there are times when it seems justified, and I think this is a case for individual conscience to decide.
is a bit trickier. Usually, provided you have time, you can brazen it out, since the official has no legitimate claim. He runs the risk of things escalating to the point where his activities are noticed by (or become an embarrassment to) those higher up. But it does take time, and in some countries, the sheer scale of extortion makes resisting an exhausting, full-time activity. We very seldom have paid anything that we knew to be "unofficial", though in some cases we, umm, compromised.
Incidentally, I don't hold with the argument that one should pay bribes or yield to extortion because officials are underpaid. In those countries, almost everyone
is underpaid, and the "contribution" to the economy is extremely harmful. It throttles legitimate revenue for the government, entrenches corruption, deters tourism, fosters other types of crime, and makes legitimate business much harder to conduct. If you feel strongly that a country deserves your patronage, make your donations in a constructive way!
One final point: there is a definite difference between oiling wheels and greasing palms. We have often given a gift (usually not money) to officials or others who have gone out of their way to help us, over and above the normal course of their duty. This is usually to do with expediting a permit, or something of that nature - not breaking the rules, but perhaps bending them a little
(or at least bending the process a bit).
Just my pen'orth.
[This message has been edited by SandyM (edited 04 December 2002).]