There are perceptions and realities associated with bribery and corruption when doing business in Mexico.
Corruption, bribery, “mordidas” (translated as “bites”, but are actually bribes) and tips are part of Mexico and the foreigner’s perception of Mexico.
It’s a difficult subject to address because it involves ethical and moral decisions for the foreign visitor or business person. What is culturally OK in Mexico, may be seen as immoral and corrupt by an individual from another country.
Historically, corruption in Mexico is blamed upon the Spanish conquistadors. While corruption no doubt existed prior to the Spanish conquest, they certainly did institutionalize it in government and throughout the Mexican (and Latin American) culture.
Today corruption, bribery and tipping occur at all levels of Mexican society and at many different degrees. For one reason or another it has become part of daily life. Most of it involves small sums of money, and is thought of as tipping and not as a bribe.
In fact, to eliminate corruption in Mexico overnight is unrealistic and would probably result in chaos. As some Mexican observers have noted, “La mordida” is the grease that makes the system work.
All of the following might occur in Mexico. Which of the following are acts of corruption or bribery? Which are totally unethical, somewhat unethical, and no big deal? Which of these events occurs in your country ?
- The garbage collectors come by every 2 weeks, rings the doorbell and ask for money for a soft drink, US $1 or $2.
- While waiting in a long line, someone comes up to you and asks if you would like to avoid the line and be attended right away. It will cost US $ 5 to US $ 10, and save you 2 hours.
- Your application for a permit/license has been in the government office for several weeks, and no one seems to be able to tell you what is wrong. The secretary asks if you would like to buy a raffle ticket for some organization. After buying the ticket the application suddenly appears.
- You visit a local political leader and take him to dinner and a theater event to discuss your project.
- At holiday time, you send gifts to politicians, suppliers and business associates.
- Your daughter copies exam answers from another student at school.
- The police stop you for a traffic violation (which may or may not have occurred). They suggest that for US $ 20 or $ 50 you can make it disappear, and you’ll be on your way in 5 minutes.
- You need government agency approvals for your business project. In order to make sure everything is done correctly, you hire an official in the department as a consultant.
- You require a zoning change on a piece of land, you invite a government official to participate as an investor in the project, or perhaps give him some shares.
- Your son or daughter wants to get into a nightclub, the doorman says no. They give him US $ 5 and walk right in.
- A city inspector finds code violations in your restaurant. A call to a family member, who knows someone, who knows someone, results in the violations being revoked.
- A drug enforcement agent receives a phone call that tells him to choose between accepting USD $ 20,000 payment this year to let a drug shipment go by unharmed or to have his children shot.
- Your immigration papers are not quite right. There is a document missing. You are able to convince the official (though words and tears) to “overlook” the situation, no money is exchanged.
Can you live and work in Mexico and not pay bribes? Yes. (I’m lived and worked in Mexico over the past 14 years and have never paid a “mordida” in my private or business life.)
Are bribes necessary for doing business in Mexico? I think it depends on the circumstances. Most business can be done without them. It depends on you, and your evaluation of the situation. There must be certain areas where influence peddling, and “mordidas” are an integral part of the business, and other areas where it’s not required in the least. This is not unique to Mexico.
All Mexican local, state and federal governments and government agencies are not corrupt. In fact, in the past 10 years there have been great advances in transparency in government, including guarantees for the time involved in processing applications and permissions.
Mexican federal public policy and local and state governments have been actively reducing and eliminating institutionalized corruption and penalizing government workers involved in illegal acts. There is still a long way to go before it’s completely eliminated, but there has been a noticeable change in many areas.
Mexico’s poverty, unequal distribution of wealth, history and culture make it difficult to eradicate corruption overnight. Mexico is a country with many laws, but they are not well enforced. It’s similar to the temptation one might feel on the lonely country road at 3:00 AM and confronting a red light…..do you stop…or run through it?
You should develop and hold firm to your own ethical and moral principals in order to live and do business in Mexico. If you don’t do it at home, why would you do it in Mexico?
Your company should have a clear policy about corruption and bribery, and hold to it when doing business in Mexico, or internationally.
If you have any personal experiences or observations about corruption, bribery, mordidas and doing business in Mexico, please write me or comment here.