December 22, 2006

Do me a favor: Don't do me any favors

A couple weeks ago, a judge in a small town in this country, awarded the US$ equivalent of over $330,000 in a labor matter against us.

Beyond the obvious jurisdictional issues of a former "employee" who is based in Canada and had a contract with our parent company in the US; beyond the fact that we heard about the lawsuit by happenstance six months after it had been filed, that it was not filed in the city we are in; beyond the fact that this former employee was not eligible for any commission, the judge awarded him commission because "it was as a result of [employee]'s sister who worked for the [client]" that we got the contract.

In the judgment, the judge explains that if employee's sister had not given him inside information, we would not have had the contract and therefore, we need to pay him a commission.

I won't get into the fact that the commission was based on amounts that we never even received, or that it was an international tender that took us six months to respond to with a team of 8 full time employees working on the tender alone, or that the sister was a secretary who did not really provide information that was not widely available.

Back to the issue at hand. In the judge's mind, and in the minds of many people, if someone does you a "favor," it automatically generates a financial obligation towards that person that is a percentage of the benefits you might have received from that "favor."

A couple years ago, after we had won the first procedures in a big lawsuit, we started to be visited by all sorts of folks who claimed that it was thanks to them that we had won. We had never even met most of these people. And they all wanted money. One of them claimed to be the President's nephew. He said that he called someone at the Presidency and that official had called the judge. He said that the official had sent him to collect his due and that if we did not comply, we would be forever blacklisted. I told the nephew to tell that official that he should call back the judge and instruct him to do the opposite of what he had done, we would not pay.

Another young person introduced by a friend of mine did make a few calls for us. He said that he thought that what was happening to us was unfair and that he really wanted to help. Well, of course, story is now that we are ingrates because we never gave him any money after everything he had done for us.

About 5 years ago, while on a business trip here, I was asked to appear on a national television program. It was an hour long interview and it went well. A couple months ago, I met the father of the employee who had arranged the interview. He went on and on about how he (the father) had arranged the interview and how he had not even asked for any money. The suggestion was that we really owed him money but he was not forcing us to pay him.

And the amounts are not small. Once someone told us that he realized that we did not have much money but that $60,000 would be enough. Another offered his assistance if we gave him $400,000. One of our neighbors is a Certified Public Accountant. We needed someone to certify the arithmetic on an excel spreadsheet for the court. We offered to pay him at the time. He said no, it was nothing and in a few minutes, he certified the calculation. When we won the lawsuit, we received a bill for the equivalent of $175,000 for services rendered but as he stated, it was "negotiable."

There are many more similar stories. As a result, not only do we never ask for favors but even when offered, we refuse. It seems like such a sad way to operate but it is self preservation.

This place is nuts. Or is it me?


  1. You are teaching me. i guess by the time I go through your blog posts, I would know everything about doing business in Africa.

  2. Hope I can help you avoid some traps I fell right into :)


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