30 March, 2011

Corruption from the top down

The reasons for the revolutions that have taken place in recent weeks have been given as either financial or political corruption, food security or, at least in the case of Bahrain, religious reasons.
There are several definitions of corruption in the dictionaries; all varying in terms of the type of corruption yet in all cases there is a dishonest or damaging act. Whatever the form of corruption there will be consequences and when I was in Libya in the mid 1970s I witnessed a ‘minor case of corruption’ and its consequence.
I found myself in Libya in 1975 as the first staff member appointed to the country’s first veterinary school in Tripoli. I had completed a year’s post-doctorate research at Liverpool University after obtaining my Ph.D. and then found myself as a Faili Kurd with nowhere else to go and Tripoli University offered a job opportunity. The veterinary school at that time was an old Italian villa set in citrus orchards on the fringes of the university campus. The Libyan Dean of the new faculty was a Ph.D. holder but a non-veterinarian and initially we each had a room in the villa with two other rooms for administration staff. There were no students at the time and we had to make preparations for the first student intake in two years time. This involved drawing up lists of the equipment that would be required for the provision of preclinical studies and biochemistry, physiology, histology and anatomy laboratories. In addition plans for a prefabricated faculty building had to be developed and there was much to do. After sometime I was joined by an English veterinarian and we both had much to do before we finally gave the Dean our completed lists of equipment. The dean passed on the purchase requests to the university’s purchase department and I put all thought of the lists out of mind as I got on with other preparations for the teaching of students.
One day my colleague and I were startled to hear the sound of breaking branches outside the window of our office and even more surprised to see a huge trailer truck endeavouring to drive into the small courtyard of the villa. As we went outside the customary ‘teaboys’ were all vying to open up the container while I worried as to where we could store the new equipment we had ordered and which the container must be carrying.
Eventually the container was opened and the eager teaboys disappeared inside to emerge with a huge, concrete garden bench! It took 6 men to carry the bench, one of several, and obviously not suitable for laboratory benching. The benches were followed by several exercise bikes and many other things including brightly coloured kitchen storage jars marked ’sugar, tea, coffee, rice etc.’. As more household furnishings emerged my colleague and I just looked at one and other, what had happened to our lists of equipment, but of course we knew, the Dean had changed our equipment orders to obtain furnishings for his home.
 One of the porters came up to me carrying a box in which was a large crystal punch bowl and glasses and asked, ‘Doctor, is this for a laboratory?’ ‘Yes.’ I replied, ’that is test tubes.’
My colleague and I could no longer stand and watch this farce and we went back into our office as more porters arrived with vehicles and the ‘laboratory equipment’ was taken to the Dean’s house.
I was always first in work and last to leave and as I left the villa later that evening I spotted one of the porters putting something into the back of a Peugeot 404 estate, a very popular car in Libya. As I walked past I could see he had a bucket, brush and cleaning towels from the store and as I looked at him he knew was in the wrong. Before I could say anything to him he said, ’Well, you saw the contents of that container this morning.’ He had helped take everything to the Dean’s house.
That was 37 years ago but I remember it as if it was yesterday and the look of defiance on the porter’s face. If those at the top set a bad example those below will follow and I have seen this happen everywhere, even in the UN.

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