Metro cops failing to acknowledge corruption reality

Corruption Watch has revealed massive gaps between the public’s experience of bribery and corruption within the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) and the organisation’s recognition of it, raising questions about the department’s willingness to tackle the problem.

David Lewis, executive director of Corruption Watch, on Monday said the scale of the problem was “massive” and that there was an “absolute failure of authorities to recognise the problem”. He was speaking at the release of a Corruption Watch report The Law for Sale, which revealed endemic corruption throughout the department.

According to Statistics South Africa, in 2010 more than 150 000 drivers in Johannesburg — one in four — had been asked to pay a bribe if they wanted to avoid a traffic fine. Corruption Watch expressed its belief that about half of all metro police officers had dabbled in corruption.

The JMPD, though, claimed only 10% of its officers were corrupt and said that between 2009 and 2011 only 184 cases of alleged corruption against officers were reported.

“We don’t have a methodological statistical problem, we have, in our view, complete denialism on the part of traffic authorities on the scale of the problem,” said Lewis.


City of Johannesburg spokesperson Gabu Tugwana told the Mail & Guardian that focusing on the contradiction in the numbers did not help. Rather, he said, the point was to establish open communication so that the issue could be addressed.

“The point is that there is a problem. The degree of the problem, I think, is a minor matter that can be dealt with constructively,” he said.

Stamping out corruption
But Gareth Newham, head of the crime and justice programme at the Institute for Security Studies, said that if the city council was serious about stamping out corruption it could do so speedily.

“If they really wanted to fight corruption, they could,” he said. “The first step is for the leadership of the JMPD and the mayor’s office to recognise the problem and take steps to solve it.”

Newham said the department should be less reactive — by investigating only those cases where a complaint was laid and where there was evidence of corruption — and more proactive as bribery cases involved two complicit parties, neither of whom was likely to report the incident.

He pointed out that in the 1990s, the New York City Police Department managed to stamp out systemic corruption in its precincts in as little as five years.

The most effective tool in New York at the time was the “integrity test”, which Corruption Watch has recommended be used in the JMPD.

This could involve having a detective go through a roadblock in a car that is unlicensed or reporting an abandoned car that has money in the boot.

These officers are not encouraged to solicit a bribe at the roadblock or steal the money from the car. They are simply given the opportunity to do so. This proactive method is more effective at surfacing corruption.

Research shows that because the threat of discovery is so great, even a small number of integrity tests is effective in discouraging corruption. The New York City Police Department, which has about 35 000 police officers, carries out about 1 000 integrity tests a year.

Integrity tests
According to Newham, integrity tests are rarely used in South Africa. When they are used, it is usually in relation to organised crime. The idea was presented to Parliament last year as part of the national anti-corruption strategy but is still under consideration.

Part of the problem is the seeming lack of willingness to address crime at the highest levels of government.

On Monday, acting national police commissioner Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi’s told Parliament that police had been instructed that investigating certain individuals within the department was “off limits”.

Although he did not mention him by name, it’s assumed he was referring to crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli, who was accused of nepotism and corruption.

Alison Tilley, executive director of the Open Democracy Advice Centre, said there was no silver bullet when it came to ending corruption in South Africa. Even if the corruption in law enforcement was dealt with, it would not solve the problem of lack of performance in government departments or of diverting state resources. “This is also corruption,” she said.

One of the key challenges to ending corruption, according to Tilley, was the poor feedback loops available to whistle-blowers.

The Public Service Commission’s anti-corruption hotline, for example, has been criticised as inadequate by the commission itself because very often they have to refer incidents to specific government departments and agencies, she said. Those departments and agencies did not have investigative capacity so the complaints are never resolved.

South Africa dropped 10 places in Transparency International’s Corruption Index between 2010 and 2011. But Tilley said South Africans can’t afford to be despondent. “Although it often doesn’t seem like reporting is working, the only way of holding people accountable is to continue reporting,” she said.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

SA needs a speak-out culture and whistleblowers are recognised as patriots

With corruption and fraud endemic in South Africa, whistleblowers have played a pivotal role in bringing wrongdoing to light. Despite their invaluable role to society, in most cases their own outcomes are harrowing and devastating. Mandy Weiner’s new book The Whistleblowers shares their stories. The following is an extract.

Review: The pandemic could change politics as we know it. Here’s a guidebook

Jakkie Cilliers’s book about igniting a growth revolution in Africa has some timely lessons as we seek ways to mitigate the economic effects of Covid-19

‘Worker safety nets inadequate’

With large-scale job losses on the horizon here and around the world, the Covid- 19 pandemic has put the vulnerability of workers in sharp focus

‘Protect your workers’ against coronavirus

The labour department has called on employers to implement measures to minimise threat of Covid-19 to South Africa’s workforce

Anarchy rules at home affairs

It is unwise to entrust our fingerprints, biographical details and legislative authority to a syndicate of delinquent government officials

Bring ‘empathy’ back to Nedlac

Lisa Seftel started out in the labour movement before she took up positions in government. Now, as the head of Nedlac, she has to create a space where both sides can meet to discuss and debate important policy issues
Advertising

Subscribers only

The shame of 40 000 missing education certificates

Graduates are being left in the lurch by a higher education department that is simply unable to deliver the crucial certificates proving their qualifications - in some cases dating back to 1992

The living nightmare of environmental activists who protest mine expansion

Last week Fikile Ntshangase was gunned down as activists fight mining company Tendele’s expansions. Community members tell the M&G about the ‘kill lists’ and the dread they live with every day

More top stories

Fifteen witnesses for vice-chancellor probe

Sefako Makgatho University vice-chancellor Professor Peter Mbati had interdicted parliament last month from continuing with the inquiry

Constitutional Court ruling on restructuring dispute is good for employers

A judgment from the apex court empowers employers to change their workers’ contracts — without consultation

Audi Q8: Perfectly cool

The Audi Q8 is designed to be the king in the elite SUV class. But is it a victim of its own success?

KZN officials cash in on ‘danger pay for Covid-19’

Leadership failures at Umdoni local municipality in KwaZulu-Natal have caused a ‘very unhappy’ ANC PEC to fire the mayor and chief whip
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday