Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Yes, I bribed DGM (or did I bribe DGM?)

I haven't written many of the details of my adoption out (the technical details).  Much of what got me started writing and advocating for ethics in adoption in DRC was because of all I learned by living in DRC while processing our adoption and helping others with theirs (and listening to others share their stories).  We were involved in every single step of the adoption.

For those of you that don't know, we stepped away from one adoption because of concerns about the ethics of the adoption.  We ended up adopting for a different orphanage.  The little boy we had been referred to originally still lives in the first orphanage.

Here is what I learned from both adoptions--

1.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  I was completely ignorant of what international adoption meant and the challenges of an ethical adoption in a country like DRC.  I thought I would be helping orphaned children that needed homes find a home.

2.  I learned very quickly how naive I was.

3.  I learned that paying off government and court officials was common place.  Giving a judge money to "close their eyes" was a normal activity.  When I expressed complete repulsion at the idea (when someone suggested it to us during our adoption) I was greeted with surprise that I would think that would be wrong.

4.  When we told people we absolutely would not be paying anyone off, our dossier was thrown out of the courts and we were told we had to re-submit it (and pay again) to have it considered.

5.  At one point when we asked to review all the paperwork being submitted we found a forged document.  No one admitted to putting it in our dossier and no one thought it was a big deal.  We did and we refused to allow it to go in our dossier.

6.  When we finally got to the point of getting DGM (DRC immigration) approval to leave the country, we were told "no problem".  We just had to pay them $3000.  We said, absolutely not.  It took us the next nine months to finally get permission to leave the country.

7.  The DGM exit letter (formal permission to leave the country) is free, THERE IS NO OFFICIAL CHARGE.  Any amount over that amount is a bribe.  That means even one dollar paid to DGM is a bribe.

8.  In the end we made a decision.  We had to decide if we were comfortable paying DGM a bribe.  We asked around and found out that minimum all other agencies/organizations were paying was $100 (of course most were paying $600 or more).  S0, we paid DGM $100 for each child to get a exit visa.  So, yes, we bribed DGM.  Put another way, we bribed the Immigration Department of DRC to get our girls permission to leave the country.  Doesn't sound so great when I put it that way, does it?


Am I okay this?  Absolutely not.  Would I adopt from DRC again right now?  No.

So, I speak out and try to give others the opportunity to do so, too.  It is only in speaking out about the truth about what is happening on the ground do we actually have a chance to change the corruption that is rampant in international adoption in DRC.  It is only in speaking the truth, without judgment, that we can work together to make change happen.  We can make a difference.  Many already are doing so, and for them (and others working to fight injustice done to orphans and vulnerable children), I have much respect.

Addendum:  I changed the title of this post to add "or did I bribe DGM?"  I did this to reflect the controversy over this topic, paying DGM any money at all, my views on it being indeed a bribe, and others who very much disagree with me.  The comments reflect the differing opinions on this well.  

Addendum #2 Feb. 12, 2014:  At the time we were adopting (2010 and 2011) no one was calling the money paid to DGM a "bribe", the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa had on their website that paying DGM $100 as part of the exit process was to be expected and was a part of the adoption process in DRC.  When I first wrote this post I was trying to do my best to reveal what I knew about the truth of DGM "exit fees", even though it was in opposition to the embassy's guidelines to IA in DRC and also against all agency and organization behavior at that time.  As of Feb. 2013, the embassy website reports that any money given to DGM as part of the exit process should be considered a bribe.  

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi my name is Anonymous, and I bribed DGM. Not once.....but twice. We adopted two children from DRC and each time we were given an invoice for "remaining fees and balance" from our agency. The invoices were not detailed or broken down. Any fees paid we were told were "in country fees." Turns out, our agency was paying around $500-$600 for exit clearances with DGM PER CHILD once we figured it all out. This was on top of fees that we were charged for "attorney support for exit clearances" that totaled over $500 extra. Because we didn't ask questions, because we blindly trusted our agency, and because we wanted our children to come home - we paid what they asked. I speak out and try to give others the opportunity to do so too. It is only in speaking out about the truth about what is happening on the ground do we actually have the chance to change corruption that is rampant in DRC (and apparently with American adoption agencies).

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable.

scooping it up said...

thank you for sharing. sadly, this country is the next adoption boom and parents wanting to 'save orphans' will flood. It will be uglier than even Ethiopia and Uganda because of zero oversight and hideous bribes. Thanks for your honesty. This makes me sick.

Karen said...

would you consider going into a little more detail about what constituted your ethical concerns or did you write about those details in another post?

Anonymous said...

The issue I have with these posts is there are MANY not doing these things, you made a choice and it is on you! It was your unethical values that chose to do the above. You took advantage of a suffering popullation and now you point the finger at DGM instead of yourself, if I had little to get by would I take money to perhaps speed my job up, ABSOLUTELY if it meant today I feed my kids. The reason why these things are being done is because of Adoptive parents, we want it all and we get mad when we have to wait longer than we want. Then after we are home we stand on our soap boxes and point the finger the other way. It is hypocritical, true things NEED to be fixed. But these posts do little to help the kids left behind or a struggling country. Because of things like apartied, colonialism, and imperialism play a large factor in why many countries are struggling today.

Anonymous said...

So you knowingly did something you now call unethical, and when you get home we are suppose to applaud you for speaking out?

Anonymous said...

Let he without sin cast the first stone. Its an unintended, bad taste pun, but you "Anonymous post bashers" have never had buyers remorse? If I had read posts like this prior to our DRC adoption, I would have either seriously reconsidered it, or been much much more diligent in exposing the process. I paid $50 once to our lawyer to get our documents "upstairs" at DGM. Later I was told to fork over $40 or so for "dinner" as it customary to buy dinner for some official. Then there was the $2000 attorney fees. Really? $2000 US? Again. Really? That's a years salary for a whole block in the DRC, and plus some. And this is an attorney that works with dozens of families in just one "agency". None of this known to use at the time. Shame on my for know thinking to dig. For being naive. But I'm smart/wiser now. I unlike you anonymous post bashers, I afford people the opportunity to actually change their minds. Maybe, just maybe what they felt at the time is no longer the same. At one point I am ashamed to say I was pro-choice. I've changed. Others views can change also.

Holly said...

You state that there are many doing this. Do you mean that there are many agencies not paying any fees/money to DGM for their exit letters. Please comment which agencies. As far as I know EVERY agency working in DRC is giving DGM money for exit letters from DGM. I would love to know differently.

Anonymous said...

So what is the answer? If we don't "pay" the DGM exit fee, will our children be left in DRC to live in an orphanage while other children whose PAP pay get to leave the country? Condoning bribery for a child on any level feels bad, really bad - Are children better off left in orphanages? when there is a loving family and home available and waiting? Which decision is the "right" decision.

I applaud you Holly, and others, for speaking out. I applaud those who do not agree for speaking out. Both acts take courage. However I DO NOT applaud those who voice their opinion in an attacking, vicious manner.

Jess said...

Interesting enough, and I know I am late to this, the US Embassy in Kinshasa says that any amount over $200 for DGM is to be considered a bribe. Even the US allows a small amount.

Jess said...

Sorry, I didn't mean to hit enter and publish. Not to say that makes a DGM exit fee right, but I do find it odd/interesting that the US sees an amount as allowable. I have heard arguments along the lines that it is similar to us paying for an expedited passport to get it faster. But then people argue that there isn't an official form to fill out the for the DGM fee like there is for corresponding expedition fees here in the US. People almost always counter that with it is not for us as US citizens to determine what another country does for their govt. documents. It is such a circular argument and I am not arguing one way or the other, just stating what we have heard from others and our own US Embassy. When we brought our kids home in 2011 we paid $350 to get our exit paperwork expedited.

Holly said...

Jess, when I made the decision to pay DGM (about $100/kid) it was because the organization that was helping us said that was the expected/standard minimum norm and because the embassy said to expect it. I have thought a lot about this since. (And also after my husband told me there is a sign at DGM saying you don't have to pay for exit letters.) If you ask the embassy directly or the DRC ambassador to the U.S. specifically about the law about paying DGM for this you will find that there is supposed to be no charge. Anything above is a bribe. Expedited fees in this situations is also another word for bribe. And I have known people who have not paid DGM any money (those doing independent adoptions).

All agencies/organizations pay this money (bribes) to DGM. What I am writing about is the accepted norm and practice for adopting from DRC. There are other agencies in DRC (like passport and family affairs) where you pay the written amount as noted in the law. You don't pay more or less. I would say that we should ask what DRC law itself says about DGM and if we should pay them. Asking the DRC ambassador to the U.S. would be an interesting place to start. And even having an agency rep. interview the head of DGM I think would be very interesting. Because you will most likely find that they will state that the law says no fees and they want to know who is accepting bribes.

There is so much responsibility here on all of those involved in international adoption. APs, agencies, on ground staff, the workers themselves and on and on.

Thanks for the comment.

Holly said...

Thanks for the comments. It is so very difficult! And I wrestle with all of your questions so often. It helps me to look at things step by step and try to figure out in what ways I can make a difference to help change happen. Certainly, by doing nothing it won't change. But perhaps if we talk with our agencies along with other, we can change practices so that those kids that do need homes really do find families and in a way that doesn't participate in corruption, abuse, or exploitation of vulnerable children.

Anonymous said...

If you're talking about your agency, Holly, we used the same one and we were repeatedly told to not pay one penny to the DGM. Funny how different people adopting from the same agency are given different sets of rules...

Holly said...

Hi anonymous. I should have clarified better. We used the organization we worked with at the beginning of our adoption only (not sure it is the same as yours as you posted anonymously and didn't say who you were with). They were wonderful help to us when we first started out and gave us a lot of information, including what the normal amount was paid to DGM when we were ready to get exit letters. They advised us that over $100-200/per child would lead to problems where adoptive parents were asked to pay more and more and then it would be bribing. I accepted this because they had a reputation of being very ethical and not bribing. We ended up processing our adoption completely independently. When my husband was at DGM he told me about the sign that said "no fees". Also, I have talked with other independent folks who have confirmed this for me as well as others who have researched this--that officially DGM is not supposed to charge any fees for exit letters. I also know many people adopting with the same organization we started with that are still told that they will pay $100-200/exit letter to DGM. Perhaps others are told differently, I don't know how every agency and organization works. Anyway, my greater point is that ALL agencies/organizations pay fees to DGM to get their exit letters (please let me know if an agency has a different policy, I'd love to hear about them and how they successfully do so; and it would be great for others to learn so as well. I'd love to be wrong in this area!). And as there is no required fee and it should be free, this becomes a bribe. The question then becomes is this okay or not? As other commenters brought up, it is a hard situation when everyone adopting pays some money to DGM and should we stop doing something that happens across the board and is accepted as the norm (at levels from 100-1000s$)? Is there a level that is too high? Is paying the immigration of the adopting country any money okay when they are writing an exit letter/visa (permission to leave the country), when it should be free? One could argue that not having any set fees for this service could easily create problems when someone may offer much more money than the normal to get it done faster or skip a step, or overlook a law/rule. I can see the many different arguments.

Holly said...

Hey Jess, finally the embassy made a comment on this here--http://adoption.state.gov/country_information/country_specific_alerts_notices.php?alert_notice_type=notices&alert_notice_file=democratic_republic_of_congo_4