Thursday, May 06, 2004

Ukraine economy

I finally saw a doctor yesterday. While I wanted to do this on Monday, nobody was available to see me
because of Mayday celebrations. They were celebrating on Tuesday as well. So Wed. I finally made it to Kiev and was taken in for X-rays.

When we got there, we found the waiting room full. I was ready for a very long wait (it was a WAITING room) but was surprised to be immediately led into a doctor. The X-rays were completed, I came up with nothing broken and as we were leaving, I was told by the PC medical rep to wait for him outside. As I walked out, he pulled cash out of his
pocket and gave it to the doctor. The reality of bribes in this country isn't a surprise but to witness it makes your head spin.

Since then I've had several conversations with Ukrainian friends and my head is still in rapid spin mode.

One man I know offered up the expected bribe to get a telephone installed in his home. The official slid the money back
across the table because it was too small. My friend waited 10 years to get his phone.

Another is finally applying for his little plot of land that each Ukrainian is promised in the land redistribution law. When I asked why he waited until now to claim free land, he explained that he had to save his money first. But it's free right? Well yes, but you have to pay a bribe to actually get it..

The saddest example, and closest to my experience, is a friend who has a mother in the hospital. In a recent conversation she casually mentioned slipping money into the doctor's pocket during their meeting. It went something like this "So I went to the hospital today to see my mother and then I saw her doctor and we talked about her situation and what we can expect and I gave her the bribe and came home." Nothing was said during this transaction but it was understood and expected. I asked how a person would know to do this and you would have thought I asked what 2 + 2 was. It was so simple that my friend couldn't believe I would ask. You do it so your mother will receive treatment! When I asked how a person knows what to pay,
she said it is typically 1/3 of the doctor's monthly salary. Doctor's make about $60 a month. Thank god they don't make a decent salary. Of course they may not feel compelled to take bribes if that was the case. But hey, Ukraine has free healthcare!

Another volunteer commented that the bribe system was almost like a second part of a legitimate economy since the state pays professionals such little money and doctors have to make enough to live. I understand her point and it is a good one but it is going to have to end for Ukraine to finally get back on track.

And by the way, when you go pay your taxes, make sure to bring your extra money (or gifts are ok) as well. You even have to pay a bribe to get the tax collectors to do their job.

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