Trust, Tolerance, Traditions and Transparency

Such nice alliterations, impressive words that will be bandied about by very important people from 55 different countries in a couple of weeks in Astana, Kazakhstan.  I’d like to write about the last one concerning “Transparency” based on conversations I have had with Kazakhs in the last several days.  For instance, after showing a movie this weekend Ken and I sat around and talked about a LOT of things not related to the movie with our Kazakh friends. We had just shown “You’ve Got Mail” at American Corner. Simple storyline of guy gets the girl but only after a confusing, non-transparent romance over Internet for the balance of the movie.

For some reason we got on the subject about corruption. I brought up how Ken, my economist husband, had been given a bribe in Ukraine from a Nigerian woman who wanted to pass his MBA course.  She had slipped two one hundred dollar bills in a book that she gave back to him. When he went to the rector to complain about it, the rector didn’t believe him. Also, this woman named Caroline, denied doing it.  Unfortunately, she was out her $200 bribe money and she also did not pass the course. She was abysmally slow and perhaps in Ukraine on false pretenses on a student visa. Ken gave the two bills to a deserving American couple who work with orphans.

I told this story to my Kazakh audience with the same aghast feelings that we both felt back five years ago when this happened.  The Kazakhs knowingly smiled at me and admitted, “happens all the time here in Kazakhstan…nothing surprising about that.”  Wow, Ken and I come from a world at the grass roots level, where nothing like bribing and corruption happens. Garden variety Americans like us don’t have to worry about paying someone off or being cheated out of something due to nepotism.  I know there is a Transparency Index and Kazakhstan is not illuminated as high on that chart, nor are any of the former Soviet Union countries, for that matter.

As a result of this topic that was brought up on corruption, I found out about two women who had applied for the Bolashak program and had taken the requisite IELTS exam.  (This is the British form of the TOEFL exam that checks their English level of reading, speaking, listening and writing skills).  The one woman who explained what had happened to her back in 2003 claimed that she never did find out her IELTS scores. Two years later she found out that she had indeed passed and she was supposed to have been awarded the Bolashak scholarship.  Her parents hadn’t pursued it and when the police came by to investigate the charges, they didn’t sign the paper for her to seek retribution.  This had happened to another person, exact same time.  Out of seven people, this had happened to two of them?  Not good!

Apparently now, to rectify this problem of weak candidates buying off the grades of other people’s passing scores for the IELTS exam, they assure the test takers that their scores will be sent to them within two weeks, directly to their home address.  So, whoever was in charge of the tests over five years ago preyed upon those who didn’t pursue what the test results were. Apparently they gave those good, passing scores to someone else who was able to pay for this prestigious award.  Believe me, I have seen a few of those returning Bolashak “scholars” who went to the U.K. and were awarded a masters degree after only one year of study who clearly still have trouble with their English grammar and writing.  How they were able to cobble together a paper for their final project is baffling to me. There needs to be more transparency in the Bolashak program and perhaps they are working on that. The existing environment in Kazakhstan is so strong that works against people who have integrity and want to reward those of merit.  Corruption abounds in the education sector yet we hold out hope that the new university in Astana will be different, transparent and corruption free.

Another example of bribes came up in class yesterday with one of the teachers who hails from the south of Kazakhstan where nepotism and corruption apparently is much more rampant than in the northern part of Kazakhstan.  She somehow landed a job in the north and when she got her first paycheck that was a significant increase, she and her husband fretted for weeks about how much money they were supposed to pay to whomever for this gift of a better salary.  She was so used to “oiling the skids” in order to get things done where she came from, she was incredulous that she didn’t have to slip money to anyone.  When she told her boss about her fears three or four months later, the boss just laughed as we all did in the classroom.  She admitted that that is the way things are accomplished in Kazakhstan, you pay your way to get the better grade or better position or better title.

So, it goes with traditions, if this is the Kazakh way, how are they going to convince outside investors from the West that they are transparent in all their actions? What are we as westerners to trust in the way of contracts that are written in English words that are not clearly understood by those people whose first language is either Kazakh or Russian.  Are we as westerners supposed to tolerate what we deem as dishonest? Kazakhs who have worked hard should be given their due, but instead they are elbowed out of their rightful positions because they don’t have enough money to pay off those in power.  How are these incidents that work against Kazakh people going to be discussed at the upcoming meeting?  I’d love to be a fly on the wall to hear all that will be said or NOT said about trust, tolerance, traditions and transparency.

2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    I understand how it is strange for you to hear the stories about corruption and unfairness. I do not know why it happens in our country, I can only blame our mentality for that. Corruption is a familiar theme for every Kazakhstan citizen. As a British historian, Lord Acton says: ” Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

  2. 2

    […] So, that reminds me of an American I know who has worked terribly long hours this semester and has not been paid. This person has been spitefully used like a slave to the Kazakh students. The students are the delight, it is the administrators who are the culprits!  Who is reaping the benefits of this arrangement with misusing an expat? Perhaps the rector of the university, perhaps someone else in administration but apparently oral and written contracts between two parties mean nothing.  So goes what I wrote about in yesterday’s blog concerning transparency and trust. […]


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