Crust of bread and such
There's corruption up the wahzoo in the Egyptian bread market. AP reports:
It's a sore point for a country struggling to contain bread riots: Bakeries that get government-subsidized flour often sell it on the black market at a huge profit, taking food from poor people's mouths.
But in Egypt — notorious for low wages and corruption — bakery workers say they have little choice but to steal the flour and sell it, both to feed their families and to pay the crushing bribes demanded by government officials and police.
the crisis has also highlighted the widespread petty corruption pervading Egyptian life — from bakeries to hospitals to police stations — that many who earn meager paychecks maintain is the only way to make ends meet.
In one poor district of Cairo, a government official in charge of a public bakery shows his paycheck: After 20 years in his position, he earns about $55 a month, including supposed bonuses.
"I have to steal — how would I survive without stealing?" the official, a father of eight, told The Associated Press. He spoke on condition that he and the district where his bakery is located not be identified, fearing reprisals.
He admitted that he regularly sells a portion of his bakery's subsidized wheat on the black market. The government provides a ration of wheat to state-run bakeries at a subsidized price of about $1.50 for each 110-pound sack. The wheat is supposed to produce bread that sells for less than one cent per loaf. But many bakeries sell some of it to private bakeries at up to $37 a sack.
Part of the difference, the bakery employees pocket. But part is needed to pay off the host of government inspectors — from the police, the Supply Ministry, the city government and local councils — each of whom demands his own fat bribe.
"I just have to give bribes to most of them or they would file fines or close the bakery," said the official, whose bakery receives 68 sacks of subsidized flour every day.
A senior security official involved in government crackdowns on the black market wheat said public bakeries often sell off up to half the subsidized wheat they receive. He also acknowledged that many inspectors pockets bribes from bakers.
"Now if I'm an inspector and you, the baker, give me 1,000 pounds ($180) a month while my salary is 200 pounds ($37) a month, wouldn't I sell my conscience?" he said.
Unless the government "feeds the people, they will keep on stealing and receiving bribes," said the security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in exchange for discussing the situation honestly.
One baker, Mohammed Abdel-Salam, said he used to work for a private firm that bought subsidized flour from public sector bakeries. "Very late at night or in the early hours of the morning, I used to go to the big public bakery and pick up three or four sacks of flour" for $37 each, he said. Private bakeries sell bread at market rates, up to 25 times the subsidized price.
Unless ambulance workers get their obligatory "tips," patients might not reach the emergency rooms in public hospitals on time — and once there, patients must be sure to gave nurses a gratuity — called "baksheesh" in Arabic — just to get basic care. In schools, nearly all Egyptian students face pressure from their teachers to pay for "private lessons" after school hours.
Galal Amin, an economist at the American University in Cairo, said corruption in Egypt is a "law that cannot be violated."
"The bribe, big and small, for public employees is not only expected but obligatory," Amin wrote in the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm. "Bribes are given and received openly, without embarrassment. An employee considers it part of his monthly salary."