The difference between a Bribe and a Facilitation Fee

I was discussing with a friend some of the many situations I find myself in (on behalf of MSABI) when trying to deal with various government departments or general business operations in Tanzania.  There is a fine line between what we consider right and wrong - and the longer you stay living and working in Africa, and the more you learn the mechanisms of how the machine works - well I think your distinctions of judgement can become blurred or even changed.

A bribe is money or a gift given to someone to change their behavior and perform an act or service that is not part of their legal or authorized activities.  A facilitation fee is a payment made to speed up (or queue jump) the process of a task that is within a persons normal range of authorized activities.  I can tell you that facilitation fees are a normal practice for the majority of organisations/companies working in Tanzania.  It is so common that it is almost impossible now to do business without paying a facilitation fee - you may not be refused service, but you will not get any service delivery.  And for an international company that has people on the ground, costing thousands per day to have idle, well a facilitation fee makes good business sense.

Let me state this clearly.  MSABI has a very black and white policy when it comes to paying money for services.  We follow what in theory is the letter of the law with due process and only pay official fees for services.  However, this is often a very frustrating and slow process.  Government employees will often (in our opinion) deliberately block or stall requests when paid the official rate - even if they have nothing else to do.  Why?  Well facilitation fees are so common that they are expected.  In one view it is seen as compensation for their poor government salary, and if you want service you must pay the person doing that service, as well as the government fee - where as in Australia, say, government salaries are very good.

One example is our ongoing saga for a taxation number for MSABI.  There is actually no fee to acquire a tax number, just some paper work.  We have completed the paper work 3x over now and after 5 months we still do not have our TIN number.  We need the number so that we can be official and receive government rebates for things such as motorbike registrations, and VAT (similar to GST) refunds on all capital purchases.  Now I know for a fact if we were to simply pay a $50 facilitation fee we would have our TIN number within a day!  So what to do???