Perspectives Across Frontiers
Edited by Leo W.J.C. Huberts, Jeroen Maesschalk and Carole L. Jurkiewicz
Chapter 13: Perceptions of Corruption as Distrust? Cause and Effect in Attitudes Towards Government
13. Perceptions of corruption as distrust? Cause and eﬀect in attitudes toward government Steven Van de Walle INTRODUCTION A foreigner moves to Belgium, and needs a telephone line in his new apartment. His Belgian friends wish him good luck, telling him it will take months, unless he has some connections in the public telephone company, or knows a politician who could intervene for him. The foreigner, not being well-connected, reluctantly decides to follow the standard procedure, and visits the telephone company’s oﬃce the next day. To his surprise, he is the only customer there and is able to ﬁle his application within 20 minutes, helped by a very friendly employee. One day later, his telephone is connected. His friends are amazed. Pleasantly surprised about this fast service, he goes back to the telephone company’s oﬃce, taking a bottle of his native country’s wine for the friendly and helpful employee, and asked the employee how comes his telephone was connected that fast, while everyone told him it would take months. The employee smiles and tells him, ‘well, you know, you were the ﬁrst customer in weeks following the normal procedure, and not having some local politician call us. We really appreciated that, and decided to connect your telephone right away.’ This joke, emergent from the 1980s, illustrates how political and other ‘connections’ have been a central element in the functioning of public services in Belgium. Belgium has had an image of being a corrupt country for a long...
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