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.
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.