More than ten years ago I had the distinct pleasure of accompanying my sister in law to the RTO while I was on a trip to Mumbai, India. The RTO is an acronym for the Regional Transport Office. At first I was nonplussed, chores in India in the heat, the line ups… everything takes so long! But there was twinkle in my sister-in-law’s eye and a kind of a grim set jaw that let me know this would be interesting.
The RTO, at that time anyway, was one of the most unabashedly corrupt institutions in India. Corruption was rife in India at that time. Got an acceptance letter from a prestigious university? Be prepared to ‘tip’ the mailman if you hope to get it. Want that phone line installed? It’ll take months, unless a bribe is paid. All along the chain in every industry it seemed, bribes were required to make anything work.
It’s a tough thing, because honestly, the mailman and the telephone installer, they don’t make enough money to survive on their government wage… taking a bribe is critical to survival. Is it wrong to survive?
That day the Regional Transport Office was busy and burgeoning with people, but not with the average car driving, middle class Indian… my sister-in-law was the exception. The place was full of people who specialize in taking driving tests… for other people.
The office was dirty and in disrepair. The high ceilings did nothing to stifle the incredible heat. On closer inspection, most of the fans weren’t on. Broken from the looks of it…. just one fan was in good repair.
That was the fan above a great mass of a man sitting behind a behemoth desk. He was bejeweled: massive gold rings on his hands and big gold chains around his neck. His fan was working fine and it was a benefit to him and the three or four assistants who buzzed about him.
This was the Regional Transportation Officer.
My sister in law, by going in person to the RTO, instead of paying a test taker, was renouncing the corruption of the country and that particular institution. The gold bedecked officer didn’t like it and decided to have some fun.
He called us out of line to his desk and offered us chai (sweet, fragrant India tea). I can’t remember if we partook. But I remember some tension and then some paperwork and leaving with my sister in law’s license renewed… but funny thing, I don’t remember her actually taking the test. My sister in law wanted to play by the rules. Corruption was the order of the day.
India is a great country filled with great people just like you and I. My sense is that the corruption I saw there was a byproduct of the failing institutions.
In Canada we like to think we are corruption free. That’s simply not true. We get by as well as we do by having a fabulous amount of wealth and thankfully a few rules (for some of us) to prevent corruption.
Next week, Valemount council is going to be making a decision on whether or not to tighten the rules around who can be a director on the Valemount Community Forest and the Valemount Industrial Park. There is a small detail that they have the opportunity to fix… those who make money from the community forest or the industrial park will no longer be allowed to make decisions for the community forest.
Having conflicts of interest does not mean the board is corrupt. They aren’t taking bribes. They aren’t siphoning off money meant for the maintenance of buildings and using it to buy gold jewellery. But they are in violation of a principle that I’ve seen every other organization in Valemount take very seriously: avoiding conflicts of interest. If you make money from an organization, step off its board.
Council’s changes to the board of directors are welcome and I hope they follow through to make this happen. Hats off to Council and staff for seeing a weakness and working to fix it.
It may seem like a slap in the face to those who have clearly worked hard to make the community forest and its enterprises successful, but that’s just one view.
For me the good work that has been so far, and been paid for by all of us, needs to be secured with policy that’s as good as the work.
The VCF board have been good stewards of our community resource, helped grow Valemount’s economy in a fullsome way. Now it’s time for other community members, not directly employed by the board, to safeguard what has been built and grow the organization.