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Official asking for a bribe? Become a whistle-blower

By Isabelle Coetzee

Although South Africa is known for its corrupt officials, you might still be startled when a traffic officer hints that there may not have been a violation – at the price of a “donation”.  

According to statistics from the Corruption Report, released by anti-corruption organisation Corruption Watch, a mere R205 will buy this traffic officer’s silence. 

The same report found that, of the 5334 corruption cases reported in 2017, altogether 46% came from Gauteng, 13% from Kwa-Zulu Natal, and 8% from the Western Cape.

These are not necessarily the most corrupt provinces; rather this is where the most whistle-blowers have acted against corruption.

Since 2016 there’s been an 8% increase in people saying “no” to corruption. So how can you become a whistle-blower against a corrupt traffic officer? 

Justmoney approached David Lewis, executive director of Corruption Watch, to find answers to some of the most important questions about reporting corruption.

1. What is considered ‘corruption’?

According to the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act (PRECA), a person guilty of an offence is defined as:

“Any person who gives or accepts or offers to give or accept any gratification amounting to an unauthorised or improper inducement to act or not to act in a particular manner.”

It is quite clear from the wording of the Act that any person who offers or gives a bribe or who solicits or accepts a bribe is guilty of an offence.

Thus, the traffic officer who accepts or asks for a bribe to let you go is guilty of an offence, and the driver who gives or offers the bribe is equally guilty.

A person in a position of power may abuse his or her authority to solicit a bribe. This coincides with Corruption Watch’s definition of corruption: “The abuse of public resources or public power for personal gain.”

2. Do bribes only count when they involve money?

Bribes do not have to involve money. The Act broadly refers to “any gratification” that may be given or received as corruption.

Even a failed transaction where no money is exchanged is seen as an offence. This is clear in the phrasing “offers to give or accept”, which indicates an intention to break the law.

3. Who should report corrupt activities?

The following individuals have an obligation to report corruption:  

  • Public Offices: Director-general, head, or equivalent officer of a national or provincial department; the municipal manager; any public officer in the senior management service of a public body.
  • Public Institutions: Any head, rector, or principal of a tertiary institution.
  • Private Companies: The manager, secretary, or a director of a company, a member of a close corporation, and any partner in a partnership.
  • Financial Institutions: The executive manager of any bank or financial institution, or any other person who is responsible for the overall management and control of the business of an employer.

4. What if you want to report corruption?

Whistle-blowers can report corruption to their local police station. A police officer must enquire if the whistle-blower wishes to open a criminal case.

Thereafter, the police officer can take down a statement and register a criminal case before referring the whistle-blower to the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation offices (the Hawks). 

Most organisations should have adequate internal reporting mechanisms and whistle-blower protection. Corruption can also be reported through Corruption Watch, or through any other route mentioned on this page

5. How will you be protected?   

In 2016, Corruption Watch released a report on corporate transparency based on data from 50 South African companies.  

It found that half of the assessed companies did not explicitly prohibit retaliation for reporting corruption. Besides this, it also found that 16 of the assessed companies did not allow whistle-blowers to report corruption anonymously.

In light of this report, employees remain vulnerable to victimisation for reporting corruption at the workplace, and the public at large remains vulnerable to corrupt practices by private companies – the recent exploits of KPMG, McKinsey, and Steinhoff are some examples.

Therefore, reporting to independent organisations, like Corruption Watch, can be a better alternative for people who wish to report incidences of corruption within their own organization. This will be done in confidence, because we do not share the details of reports to the public or to companies.

6. How can you help Corruption Watch with a case?

It is advisable for people to record incidents of corruption.

This would count as compelling evidence when reporting an incident, but it may or may not be accepted as evidence in court proceedings, should there be a prosecution.

To find out more about this, visit this page on the site. If you would like to report an incident of corruption, visit the website here.

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