Bribery is our business

2013-08-27 00:00

THE prestigious magazine India Today, recently carried an article that said: “Welcome to the Republic of Bribe, where nothing gets done until the right palm is greased with the right amount”.

The piece was on what has become known in India as the “black economy” — the petty day-to-day bribery for public services that the magazine said is so commonplace, that they have become par for the course, “we simply shrug our shoulders and move on”.

Two stories carried by The Witness in recent weeks showed how insidiously the bribe has crept into our own society and is becoming accepted as a norm.

Young people interviewed by the newspaper did not question the fact that they were expected to pay a bribe at the local driver’s licence testing grounds in order to get their licence.

Each had their own story to tell and knew of others who had either been approached or who had actually paid a bribe to get their licence. The attitude, by and large, among the people we interviewed was that everybody is doing it, or don’t blame us, blame the all-powerful bribers.

Then, there was the Pietermaritzburg woman Juanita Badenhorst, who went to apply for her passport and discovered that for the past 10 years she has been married to a man she has never met.

An exposé a few years ago showed that more than 3 000 South African women were unwitting victims of fake marriages.

All it took was a bribe and a willing Home Affairs official. Marriage certificates were valuable because foreigners who married South Africans were automatically entitled to permanent residence and a work permit.

The system has since tightened up and a law passed in Parliament now requires foreigners who marry South Africans to wait for five years before applying for anything but temporary residence and work permits.

However, it is clear that the abuse continues because a temporary permit is better than no permit at all.

Also doing the rounds are anecdotes of bribes paid for RDP houses, for jobs at municipalities, to get places in nursing colleges or the police service.

Global watchdog Transparency International noted that nearly 47% of South Africans paid a bribe in 2012 to get an essential service.

The organisation said that in terms of levels of corruption, South Africa is on the same tier as countries such as Afghanistan.

The big question is how do we move away from shrugging our shoulders at this culture of greasing the palm? Firstly, there has to be the political will to fight this corruption

But, what do you say to the petty bribers in the face of large-scale corruption in the government, in municipalities and in the private sector?

There’s the issue of government jobs going to the families of politicians, or senior officials, and tenders going to those who are well-connected. The recent scandal around the tenders for the World Cup stadia revealed the extent of graft within the private sector

The India Today article said that at the root of the problem is the poor example set by politicians.

There is also the lack of rigorous enforcement, which results in the bribe taker having no fear of being brought to book.

However, it noted that more than anything, “petty bribery can be rooted out through a movement of common citizens who have the courage to say no and to expose the corrupt”.

In India, an anti-bribery website — ipaidabribe.com — has been making a huge difference in exposing levels of bribery and giving ordinary citizens a voice with which to fight the scourge.

Its founder, a retired senior public servant, Raghunandan Thoniparambal, said the aim is not to identify the people, but the problem. He added that in the end, it is civil society and simple democracy that can make a huge difference.

Clearly, there is little use relying on self-serving politicians to do the right thing.

Perhaps an organisation such as Corruption Watch in South Africa can set up a similar website.

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