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My close encounter with corruption

OUR gruelling negotiations had ended and I was taking my knackered self upstairs to my office.

John Kunyara (not real name) followed me and whispered that I could get the fee discount I had requested if I was comfortable doing a side deal with him and his colleague. The colleague had been consulted and agreed.

And this is how the deal would work. John & Co would ditch their employer and use their private company to do the transaction. They have a company for doing these kinds of deals, I was informed. This transaction would now not involve their employer. The proposed agreement on the employer’s letterhead would be discarded.

I apparently had opened a door to this brazen suggestion by driving a hard bargain and asking for a discount in the transaction fees. My request could be accommodated through a heist of their employer.

For a moment, my mind was not able to process what was being asked of me.

I remember vividly the violent response in my entire body, which was a loud: “You will not get involved in this.”

When some calmness returned, my mind walked away from my soul and self-righteousness and strongly put it to me that since we were financially constrained, US$30 000 to US$40 000 would plug a few holes.

The violent reaction in me was my conscience wrestling against the reality of our financial circumstances which my mind was seized with.

The inner turmoil persisted all the way home. As the temptation to grab the deal and run lingered, I soon realised that I was not afraid of the police or the law. I was convinced that the police and the law would never get to know about our dirty deal. After all, thieves are supposed to stick together.

I found myself more concerned about how I would live with myself after participating in this. My wife, she who must be loved, feared, respected and obeyed, was very clear: This dirty deal was to be dismissed with the contempt it deserved.

“We don’t do this kind of thing,” she firmly reminded me.

With my conscience having found a companion in my wife, I was emboldened to walk away from the dirty deal.

l then asked John for a meeting at home the following weekend. We sat under one of our huge Jacaranda trees with my dogs behaving as if they wanted in on the conversation.

John appeared remorseful and wanted to know why I was different from everyone else out there who would have jumped at this opportunity to pocket a +US$30 000 windfall without even blinking. He said he had never, ever heard or met someone who had done what I had done.

After a lengthy conversation, I asked him what explained his professional success this far and he said it was the brand and reputation of the company that he had worked for for years.

I pointed out that what he was asking me to do would take away business from this same company. I used my return to normalcy after the brief seduction of extra cash as a teaching moment for both of us.

Arriving at this level of clarity, to say no to the indecent proposal, was intentional and not a knee-jerk reaction. It was centred on who I have become over years of getting to know who I am and strengthening the values and principles I live by.

But knowing yourself does not mean you do not get tempted. It means you are better equipped to deal with temptation.

When I had come to my senses, I realised that saying yes to the deal meant that I would be compromised in the eyes of all those party to the deal. I would join the unscrupulous who are becoming role models in our country. I would be partly owned and beholden to the people who would be party to this deal.

I am told that in these tough economic times, this is the form of corruption that is rampant in the private sector. People add a certain amount to the invoice to be split between service or product provider and the insider. Willingness to participate in this corruption, not quality of products or services, determines who gets the business.

This might partly explain the high costs of doing business in this economy and price variations.

A senior executive was recently asked to resign or face being fired after it was discovered that such deals were a source of his lavish lifestyle.

People find all sorts of reasons to justify why they participate in corruption. Poor or delayed salaries and poverty are the common scapegoat. Greed seems to be the main cause of corruption.

In many instances, participating in corruption has become second nature such as bribing the police and government officials.

My experience shows the law will not stop corruption. It is that personal reformation that l often write about that will stop corruption. It is our values and conviction that will cause the violent turmoil within when tempted by corruption.

All leaders must behave and speak in an exemplary manner when it comes to corruption for us to stop this scourge.

I hope my stance, though tentatively adopted, changed John & Co. As for me, I prayed and asked for forgiveness. I repented and moved on.

Lesson learnt: There will be no next time.

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