Corruption, reputation and wasta

Quite often in my business meetings I am asked "Who is the owner of the company?", sometimes also "How old is this company?" or "Where is your office?"

These questions are about reputation. It matters a lot who is the owner, if it's a local guy and if so, from which family? Or if its international, is it a part of a major corporation that has been around for like 100 years? It matters in which part of the town (or on which street) your office is. Quite shallow and ridiculous, I think. Where I am from, this kind of questions are almost never asked. It matters who you are and what you do, but here this is not enough.

I think this is characteristic to Middle East (and perhaps other parts of the world as well) and its roots come from Wasta. Wasta is who do you know, what is your background (family), how connected you are. It can be considered as a specific type of corruption (translation: a mean, mechanism, medium). Wasta is about having someone in a power position do something (legal or illegal) for you (a favor) that couldn’t be done without a wasta. What is different from other kind of corruption is that people don’t usually hide their acts when they use Wasta, they even brag about it, and offer providing the same wasta to people around us to help them out (to get a better social standing). With enough wasta, anything can be done: any lawful punishment can be escaped, any employment can be attained, any problem can be brushed aside.

People use wasta for business. Hence the question - who is the owner of the company. If you have big enough wasta, you can get your startup business launched in no time. Doors will open if the right names are involved.

From my personal experience I know people who have been teaching here for years in government schools. They told me that wasta is even used in the local schools (for emiratis). For example a student is in the school on a scholarship, but is lazy as hell and doesn't study, fails all exams and doesn't even show up sometimes. Teachers tell the administration to stop the scholarship, but get the answer "He is a nice kid, comes from a good family". Wasta.

I haven't personally had much contact with Wasta. It is much more common among the locals, which are the minority in the country (and 95% of them work in the public sector).

Fortunately the business sector (at least to my knowledge) is not very corrupt, although I have heard of bribery cases.

1 comment:

Tini said...

My time in the recruitment sector opened my to the corruption in the construction sector... very sad storries