Corruption at its Finest

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Gabon doesn’t exist without corruption; it’s on every street corner, in every office, in the markets and on the road.  Some days you hardly notice it whereas others, it hits you right in the face.  This week has been one where it hits us in the face.

It’s not unusual to have police checkstops here.  There are locations where they are more common and they’re sporadically throughout the month and on weekends.  Often times, they’ll ask for your car papers and let you go.  Other times they’ll find problems with your papers and try to give you a fine on the spot.  (We are advised not to pay on the spot as the officers will take the money for themselves.  Instead, we are to ask to go to the police station where they can actually write you a receipt.  Sometimes they’ll advise you to go there, other times they’ll just let you go.)  It can get difficult because they often change the rules and even if you have everything in order, it might not be enough for that particular officer.

Monday morning we noticed an unusually large number of police officers and checkstops and as I met my friends for our morning walk, I heard of troubles they had over the weekend, mainly, police confiscating their passport or residence cards.  Rumour has it that the petroleum workers’ union is unhappy again.  In short, they want us gone and they want the jobs for themselves.  (They don’t seem to realize that we are here for a reason.  Expats are brought into countries when the locals aren’t qualified to do the job and if they force the expats to leave, the foreign companies will also have to leave and they will be without jobs.)  Apparently, the union asked the police for help to find foreigners to deport.

Monday afternoon the police began going to foreign offices, Halliburton being one of them.  They went for a meeting with the base manager and locked the gates not allowing any expats to leave.  They began by rounding up a group of employees, Joe included, and eventually decided to take everyone to the immigration office.  At the immigration office they took a record of everyone’s documents.  Joe was there for about 4 hours and he said it was not hostile in the least but very inefficient.

When we first arrived in Gabon, all we needed was a valid visa or the carte de sejour.  They’ve now changed their mind and have said that all foreign workers need a work permit separate from the residence card.  People began applying for the permit but the government won’t issue them at this time leaving the majority of expats here without the document.  It seems like this crackdown has to do with the permit and the union is hoping to have everyone deported that doesn’t have it.

We are currently dealing with police checkstops on every corner, one officer in the driver’s side window asking for papers, another in the passenger window asking for money.  Yesterday it was just papers, today they are apparently trying to fine people for not having a fire extinguisher in the car (not previously required.)  The police are still making their rounds to all companies and will continue to do so all week.  As far as Halliburton is concerned, nothing has been hostile and no one has been deported.  Other companies haven’t been as lucky.  I heard of 2 men being deported from one company and my friend’s husband must leave the country temporarily tonight leaving her and their 3 kids behind.  Joe has all of his papers, work permit included, but many of our friends do not.

There is an uneasy feeling among the expats here.  We don’t particularly want to go out as we don’t want to be hassled by the police yet it’s hard to not go about your daily life.  While I’m pretty confident Joe & I won’t be deported, which might not be a good thing, the uncertainty of everything else isn’t fun.  We are not happy with how we are being treated and we certainly feel the irony of the president touting Gabon as a great place to invest and that foreigners (and their money) are welcome.

We’ll keep you posted…

Please note, like any post I do, it’s from my own experiences or experiences of friends of mine and there could be inaccuracies.

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