Thursday, April 05, 2007

Mozambique Corruption

On every trip there are those experiences that are unexpected. On a recent trip to Mozambique this proved to be very true.
I remember driving next to a lake as the sun was setting. I could see about twenty birds along a five meter strip next to the lake. The amazing thing is that there were about five or six different bird species in that little row. What was equally surprising is that although we stayed in a game reserve, the only other animal I saw in a week was a squirrel? I did not even see a monkey! Speaking to a friend about the mystery, he commented that he thought this was the result of hungry (or not so hungry) locals. This may be true. It just seemed really strange to be in a reserve, six hours from the nearest traffic light, in desolate Africa, and not an animal to be seen.
One can only dream about the magnificent wild life that must have roamed the planes and lined the lakes. Oh we did also see a crocodile…I guess they are not so easy to catch and eat!

I certainly was an interesting trip. What was a real experience was the whole "settling of the account" experience. Once we were in our camp, we were approached everyday by "the official" of the camp. It seems that there were a number of hidden expenses. The "official" who introduced himself as "Lazero" , was an interesting chap indeed. The first two times we met him he was battling to stand up straight, and could not hold a conversation. One of his jobs, apparently , was to open the gate so we could access the beach in the morning. On the second night, he approached us and asked to please not hoot for him in the morning, as he would be sleeping. He said he would leave the gate open for us.(which was a piece of string between two sticks). The next morning as we launched our boats, he was asleep next to the gate, conveniently passed out under the shade of some palms.
Here is an important note, and the lesson I learned in this trip. KNOW THE RULES!!! It seemed that this chap was insisting that we pay R70 a day for fishing in his park. He said that it was for the official fishing permit, and that it was a daily permit. Our information, which later proved to be true, it that a fishing liscence is R150 (about), and that was valid for your entire stay in Mozambique. Once we forced that issue, he changed the rule to R70 a day per boat, launching fee. He had some old forms in Portuguese, and kept pointing at various places, saying that theses fees were required. Of coarse we could not read the form, so we could not interpret what it said, and therefore it was difficult to defend ourselves.
There was more fun and games, around our "bill". We were in Mozambique when the massive swell hit about a month ago. When it hit, halve the camp returned home, not wanting to dive In huge seas (most sensible indeed). When they left they settled the bill with Lazero.
The next day there was a knock at my tent, guess who…it was Lazero. He said that he had come to collect the money. "What money" I asked. He told me that my friends had left and they had not paid. He continued to say that I was now responsible for their bill. He wanted me to pay R70 per person per day for fishing. What had happened is that my friends had left the day before, after negotiating with him. It seemed tat all he wanted was a hundred rand from each of them, which they paid. He now wanted a further R670 from me! When I told him that they had paid him, he refuted it. He then took out his phone and stated that he was going to phone the border and have them arrested there. He then pretended to walk up onto the hill where there was some cell phone signal. I must say that at that point, I was a bit worried. Images of sharing a cell with big sweaty African men came to mind. I began to wonder if I would see one of these cells myself. You see I had only brought a few hundred rand pocket money, and would not even be able to buy my way out of the problem (which is what the game is all about!).
I was busy pondering the fate of my fellow fishermen, when I decided to go find Lazero. Surprise, surprise…he was not up the hill, but chilling in his shaded room. I quickly realized that he had not called any one. I wonder if the phone even worked. (The place had no water or electricity, making battery life very difficult!).


Still everyday he came to the camp and deliberated with us, this would go on for 30min to an hour.
On about day five he came to us and announced that he was going home, and introduced us to two other "officials". A young man and a lady. He said that he was leaving them in charge, and after trying for a while to extract a few hundred rand out of us (to no avail), he left. I seemed to us that he was raising funds for his trip home.
When he left he told these officials that we owed money. This resulted in many more deliberations. Finally a tour came through the camp. There were Portuguese speaking South Africans who helped us sort out the bill. They could read the documentation, and refuted the claims that the "officials" were making.
All in all the "officials were trying to get us to pay about R3000, and our actual bill was R750. (about R250 each for the three of us).

I tried to have the, "don't you want people to come back here", and "if you loose this job, you'll have nothing" talks with them, but they clearly pretended to not understand what I was talking about. This seemed to be the technique they adopted, as soon as you were winning the deliberations.

Talking to others in the camp, it seems that these "officials" operate the same almost every where in the country. At border posts, at road blocks and at camp sites. It takes some serious "Africa smarts" to not become a victim. Thanks to my two mates, Hein and Kevin, who were not nearly as gullible and trusting as I was, I did not become a victim. Thanks guys!

The moral of the story, know your stuff.
Always get a receipt for everything you do.
Know the conversion rate.
Speak to others before you go and get the rates, and the rules.
Don't give money to every "official" who demands it.

The most headway we had was when we said we wanted to see it in writing, and that we wanted an official receipt. No receipt, no pay!!! This worked well. Receipts should be in official receipt books with official print and stamps in them.

Other than all this mess, the trip was great. There were a few times on the trip I swore I would not return, all this nonsense has the potential to seriously ruin the mood of a trip. In the end the beauty of the land, it's remoteness and quality of fish will have me back. This time a lot wiser. Watch out "officials"!

 Wayne Duncan