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Step on the corruption scale

By Abuti Rams

Say you were to step on the “corruption scale”, how much do you think you would weigh?
Just like most people, I have a problem with corruption in its diverse forms. In recent years, most of our media reporting has exposed corruption on all levels of government (be it local, provincial or national). Every week we hear of protests and rumours of protests against inadequate service delivery, often the result of corruption in local government.

And while a number of municipalities and leaders may be under corruption watch, I have to ask, are we any different to them?

Some 47% of South Africans say they have paid a bribe in the last year. According to Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer 2013, securing essential services in South Africa means that a staggering 20% more of our population believes that this is the only course of action compared to the worldwide average of 27%.

What this means is that almost half of the country is participating in some form of corruption to access essential services. Believing ourselves to have no other choice, we pay our way out of trouble.

Mark Wessels, Reuters

Almost half of the country is participating in some form of corruption to access essential services. (Mark Wessels, Reuters)

The barometer also asked respondents how they viewed the extent of corruption in 12 key institutions or categories – from political parties, to Parliament, military, NGOs, media, religious bodies, business, education systems, judiciary, health services, police and civil servants. A 24% increase in perceived corruption in religious bodies – surely the one area in our society that should be above reproach – paints a bleak picture.

While many might debate the real causes behind citizens participating in some form of corruption, one has to consider the impact of historically pervasive disadvantage – a factor that remains to this day.

Take for instance a single, unemployed parent of five children – three of school-going age and two who have completed their education but have not yet found employment. They live in a two-bedroomed RDP house and receive a monthly bill of R600 for municipal services, for water, rates and electricity. They’ve accrued a backlog of R25 000 on their account. Failure to pay results in the municipality cutting your electricity and reducing your water supply. As a result many people in this situation resort to paying bribes to municipal officers to reactivate their services. This may seem as an option considering the conditions at hand, however it is another form of corruption and it all starts there.

I encourage us to respect our institutions and make arrangements to pay our debt so that we can root out the influence of corruption in our society.

As a graphic designer, I was recently requested to forge the security certificate required for a tender submission in return for the promised “ke tla go fa ya colie” – the well-known shorthand “cash for a cooldrink” that is an invitation to a dodgy deal. I admit I was tempted – until my ethical concerns held out. However, I equally have to admit that I still failed to find the courage to voice my disapproval.

One example most of us are familiar with is that of a traffic officer asking: “What’s in it for me?” It’s a “get out of jail free card”. However, it creates a platform for both you and the officer to contribute towards the advancement of corruption in our society. Like most crimes, corruption should be punished.

The problem with corruption is that it destroys prosperity by doubling the cost of the provision of services or doing business. A corrupt political, civil society, or business leader uses the opportunity to benefit improperly, as insurance for performance of duties.

Such leaders take advantage of their power to harbour resources unto themselves. Corruption has taken hold in all spheres – in both the public and private sectors, and even in religious institutions – that should function as the custodians of our national conscience.

We must hold corrupt officials accountable for their actions – even our Number 1, the president. However, if we are going to point fingers, we also have to look at our own actions and take responsibility for our own ethics. This means that each one of us too should refuse to receive or give a bribe.

It is possible to have a corruption-free nation if it starts with you and me.

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