Like many people, I used the “Crimbo limbo” (period between Christmas and new year) to do a bit of sorting, tidying, sifting and chucking. And as I went through the thousands of photos that I took in 2015, I came across one that I had meant to share with the readers of this blog. Those of you who’ve been with me for a while will remember that in September 2015 I went on holiday to eastern Europe, and I blogged about it – and the ruminations on corruption that it generated – here and here. But I quite forgot one of the corruption-related highlights of the trip.
We were nearing the end of our holiday, and our penultimate port of call was Brașov (pronounced “brashov”) in the Transylvania region of Romania. (It’s the nearest city to Bran Castle, home of the toothy Count D.) It’s a very pretty place, with a mediaeval heart and mountains all around. And as we checked into our historic coaching inn, I spotted this on the noticeboard behind the desk:
No, not the check-in times, but the “green corruption hotline” number. I asked the owner about it, and he said, with a sigh and a rueful shake of the head, that corruption is still part of everyday life in Romania. Indeed, the recent resignation of prime minister Victor Ponta and the continuing investigations into high-level corruption (as detailed in this November 2015 article from the Guardian) show this to be true. But this hotline is specifically for businesses, and it is intended mainly as a deterrent. “I have never called it,” he said, “but I display it prominently and I see people noticing it, and since it has been there I have not been offered any bribes.” I must have looked surprised – bribing a hotel manager had not occurred to me. “To inflate a bill, so that an employee can claim more on expenses, or to choose one supplier over another, or to give a free room to a local dignitary for an afternoon of relaxation with a lady,” he suggested. “But since I point out the hotline – nothing.” He smiled.