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Mexicans paid 1.8 billion dollars in bribes, study says

Written by: Staff
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MEXICO CITY, May 10 (Reuters) Six years after Mexicans kicked out a government seen as corrupt, public graft is still widespread, and people paid an estimated 1.8 billion dollars to traffic cops, city hall clerks, garbage collectors and other officials last year, according to a study.

Mexicans paid bribes -- known in Mexico as ''mordidas'' or ''little bites'' -- 10 per cent of the time they dealt with government officials last year, according to a study by the Mexican chapter of Transparency International.

This included run-ins with police, applying for permits and even having mail delivered, and the group estimated Mexicans paid out about 1.8 billion dollars last year.

When Vicente Fox became president of Mexico in 2000, he ended 71 years of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which critics say was riddled with nepotism, theft and other abuses of power. Mexicans had expected Fox's administration to bring a reduction in public corruption.

The rate last year compared to bribery 9 per cent of the time in a 2003 study and 11 per cent in 2001, Transparency Mexico head Federico Reyes told reporters. No figures were collected before then.

Close to 115 million bribes were paid by Mexicans last year, more than one per person including children and averaging about 175 pesos (16 dollars) per pay-off, the organisation said.

That hits Mexico's poorest families hardest. ''Corruption is this country's must unfair tax,'' Reyes told reporters.

Transparency Mexico interviewed thousands of families across the country about their experiences with governments and state-owned firms, But Transparency officials yesterday said they did not detect any pattern in their study suggesting the PRI or any of Mexico parties lends itself more than the others to corruption in the form of bribes.

Bribe-paying was worst in the country's capital, where people greased the palms of one out of five police and government officials they dealt with.

Mexican drivers paid bribes half the time they were pulled over by cops and 60 per cent of the time that police threatened to tow their cars for illegal parking.

Wealthy people as well as parents of young children are more apt to pay bribes than are other Mexicans because they are the ones who most value their time, Reyes said.

''When a citizen pays a bribe, he's buying time, so this is very much linked to citizens with a higher standard of living,'' he said.

State governments have relaxed too soon after making small improvements in the fight against corruption in recent years.

The study, sponsored partly by Mexican broadcasters Televisa and TV Azteca, did not examine graft by corporations, businessmen or high-profile politicians.

REUTERS SI RK0920

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