Fixing the Fixers

This is the start of a series of posts that I hope to write which will look at specific problems that we need to address. I support the general call to end corruption. But I find it a motherhood statement. When we say reforms, I think we should we can look at particular cases, see how these reflect larger social problems, and question how we might solve them.

We begin with the problem of fixers.

The thing is they aren’t fixing anything, are they? They really work to help perpetuate a culture of corruption. And as is the problem of many aspects of this culture of corruption, we accept that it as part of the system.

According to a cabbie, he had to pay P500 to get his papers processed. The cost should have been P300, but he had to pay a fixer P200. This was so that his papers would get processed within the day. Otherwise, they would keep pushing his paper back and it would take him two to three days to get the papers he needed. I will talk in a later post about our willingness to pay for expediting of government services. Here I just want to talk about the role of the fixer.

The fixer serves as middle man between the person trying to get government services and the government employee. So between client and service, there is this intermediary who serves to supposedly expedite papers. But what he actually does is forward the threat of your paper being set aside because it does not have someone backing it, making sure that attention is paid to it.

The seemingly easy solution is just to get rid of the fixers. But then I wind up thinking about how these fixers are actually part of an underground economy. Obviously this underground economy is detrimental to our society. You have these people tampering with the proper flow of the delivery of government services. You have to spend more than you should to receive those services. And you have transactions happening that are outside of proper procedures, so these people have income that is not taxed. (well of course not, the work itself is illegal.)

Think though, what do these people do? They have been entrenched in the system of government services since, well, most of us can remember. What are we supposed to do with them?

I did a study once on underground economies. I was surprised that one of the women who I interviewed, who was selling toys and similar items on the Philcoa underpass, was a college graduate. She said she earned more sitting there all day selling than she did when she was working an office job. So it could be more financially rewarding to work in an underground economy.

We have to consider that these fixers have families, and there is a major disruption that could occur with their abrupt removal. So even before the total dissolution of this system is attempted, we should have a clear plan of what to do so that engaging in this system becomes unattractive.

I figure, and I could be wrong, that what the fixer does is essentially run papers back and forth. They serve as our lobbyists in line, and what they do is cut in and jump ahead of the line for us (god I hate people who cut in line).

What we see here, and the reason why they can offer the services that they do, is that there is a scare resource. This resource is the attention of the government worker who has to process the papers. You have to pay the fixer, and the fixer in turn has to grab the government worker’s attention (also with money), so that you can get the attention of the government worker, which you are supposed to have in the first place because you have paid for those services with your taxes and the processing fees.

So the limited resources that allows for this system is the attention of the government official. So if we could increase that, then we could better address this problem. Then why not put the fixers to work also processing papers? Put them behind those desks and utilize that manpower to process those papers.

I know that these people are unqualified to process papers at the moment.

And I know that the fixers probably aren’t properly trained to do this processing. But they know the systems of the government institutions they are working with. What if we trained them to process papers?

Can you imagine how many more papers would be processed if you got all those fixers and employed them and put them to the task of helping to provide government service, rather than condoning the practice and letting them subvert the system of service delivery?

Proper training, proper employment, more efficient government service because you have taken that chunk of the underground economy and found a way to refocus it. You don’t just remove or dismantle. These people aren’t a cancer. But they are enabled by the cancer of corruption. Provided with the proper training and systems, they could be assets to our system of services.