The Washington Post
Wednesday, October 31, 2001; Page A23

For Many in Mexico, Bribes a Way of Life

Report: Fees Common for Public Services

By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service

MEXICO CITY, Oct. 30 -- When the young mechanical engineer went to get his driver's license four years ago, he slipped the clerk about $10, skipped the written
exam and walked out with a license in minutes. When he got married, a $10 palm greasing got him the date on the calendar he wanted for his civil ceremony. Now
he's working on a construction project, and the city functionaries have told his company that the building permit will require a $100,000 bribe.

"Everybody does it," the engineer said. "It's been going on for a long time."

Now, an anti-corruption group has attempted a scientific measurement of bribes in Mexican daily life. Transparency Mexico, the local arm of Transparency
International, determined in a report issued today that residents of Mexico City have to pay bribes for almost a quarter of the government services they receive.

"This is the first time we have hard facts about the dimension of the problem for households, and it is monstrous," said Federico Reyes Heroles, head of Transparency
Mexico, meeting with reporters today.

The group surveyed more than 16,000 Mexican "heads of household" in June and July and asked them which public services, and some private ones, they had to pay
bribes to receive. It asked about signing up children for public school, registering cars, garbage collection, water service, building permits and a range of other

The privately funded survey found that on average, Mexicans pay bribes for 10.6 percent of the services they receive. They said the average bribe was about $11.
The services for which bribes are most frequently paid are related to cars: retrieving an impounded car required a bribe 57.2 percent of the time; avoiding traffic
tickets, 56 percent; and avoiding other traffic offenses, 54.5 percent.

President Vicente Fox has vowed to reduce rampant corruption in Mexico, running a high-profile "no more bribes" campaign with posters and lapel buttons. But
based on the survey results, those efforts have done little to change the ethos of thousands of police officers, public clerks and other public officials. And many
Mexicans find paying bribes more convenient than waiting for service from cumbersome government bureaucracies.

In police corruption, Transparency International this year rated Mexico 19th out of 23 countries surveyed and 51st out of 91 countries surveyed on overall
corruption. Those rankings were based mainly on the perceptions of academics, business leaders and others.

Based on the survey released today, Reyes Heroles said some Mexican states show a remarkably low rate of bribery: Residents in the Pacific coast states of Colima
and Baja California Sur reported paying bribes for 3 percent and 3.9 percent of services, respectively.

Mexico City was the worst, at 22.6 percent, followed by the state of Mexico, which surrounds the capital city, at 17 percent, and Guerrero state at 13.4 percent.

Reyes Heroles said the higher rates in Mexico City and Mexico state may reflect the fact that bribery is most common in urban areas. He said people there have
busier lives and less time, which may make them more willing to pay a bribe than wait for a service.

He also said that the "most disturbing" trend uncovered by the survey was that younger, better-educated Mexicans tend to pay bribes more often than those who are
older and have less education. He said that younger, educated people tend to have less free time and more money, making bribes an attractive alternative to waiting.

Unfortunately, he said, it means that the next generation of Mexicans is already accustomed to paying bribes.

                                               © 2001