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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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  1. Aubrey Chalmers Aubrey Chalmers 7 November 2014

    I agree with this statement. It was only a few years ago that I wrote a letter to the press regarding the way people conduct themselves. My reason at the time was the way the public disregard laws – speeding above the speed limit, pedestrians ignoring the law by J-WALKING. Driving through red traffic lights. Paying bribes to avoid traffic tickets.
    It is up to us the public, to start the ball rolling in the right direction.
    As President Truman said at his swearing in ceremony “THE BUCK STOPS HERE!”

  2. Balt Verhagen Balt Verhagen 7 November 2014

    Hi Abuti, ou boet!

    Could not believe my eyes that two days after having posted your piece I seem to be the first to comment. Often I come in right at the end!

    Methinks you were closer to the bone than is comfortable for most people and might have unleashed in many a bit of introspection. A possible result: the writing on the wall at Belshazzar’s feast: Mene, mene, tekel upharsin. Weighed and found too light.

    If I am right, you have done us all a great service. Corruption appears in many guises and the topping the list in this country, on the scale of notoriety, is No. 1. Doubtless, in terms of rands, there are bigger ones: since his Shaiky days he has been a relative schlemil. But as you rightly point out in the money sense, just about half us have sinned on that score.

    But there are many other, more subtle and insidious forms, like going along with the flow as far as principles such as ethical, moral are concerned because, after all, you can’t fart against thunder. And even more subtle; how white are the little lies we tell – are they really for the perceived good of the situation or does the little voice in us say: you were less than honest there!

    “Who knocketh there? A lonely little sin…The door is opened, and all hell bursts in!”

    This has stuck in my mind. I did not invent it. I cannot find it on Google.

    But it remains a sobering saying.

  3. Mariano Castrillon Mariano Castrillon 8 November 2014

    I have noticed that those who bribe the traffic officers are proud of what they have “saved” in a fine, and brag about it. These same shameless people will later complain when a civil servant does not do his/her job with due speed unless the engine is greased. Since we live in a country where bribery and corruption are the order of the day and where it starts at THE VERY TOP, it is up to us, citizens, to put the brakes down and to force all of those who come in contact with us to perform their duties or risk being reported to the proper authorities…….assuming that there remains any kind of authority that is not open to being bribed and already corrupt.

  4. Sabelo Mnukwa Sabelo Mnukwa 11 November 2014

    Great Article. In reflecting on what you are saying i find it strange that we are often focused entirely on questioning our leaders without at first questioning ourselves on the very same principles that we judge them.

  5. Baz Baz 18 November 2014


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