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Have you paid R2000 worth of bribes?

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This week saw the release of the second annual South African Citizen’s Bribery Survey by the Ethics Institute, and the results were hardly surprising for average citizens. According to the report, the number of people asked for a bribe has risen, as has the average cost of a bribe - R2201.00.

Bribery and corruptionWhile R2000 might seem a hefty sum to pay as a bribe, this is an aggregate across a number of different types of bribes. Survey respondents said the top five reasons for resorting to bribery are to avoid traffic offences; to secure a job; to obtain a driver’s licence; to get a tender; and to receive unauthorised discounts from business. The most frequently mentioned bribe amounts were R50 and R100, and the median bribe amount was R700.

A hefty 51% of all bribes were paid by people looking to get out of traffic offences, and “if these relatively contained areas of bribery could be reduced‚ it would make a tremendous impact on people’s experiences of bribery‚ and more importantly‚ on South Africa’s high number of road deaths‚” the report said.

Many people might not think twice to pay a traffic officer R100 to walk away from a speeding ticket, but 15% of the 51% of traffic-related bribes paid in the 2016 survey were to secure a driver’s licence. The report’s authors said that although the link seems tenuous‚ refusing reckless drivers and those who have not prepared adequately for a driving test the chance to pay a bribe to get out of trouble could save lives.

In light of South Africa’s comfort with a culture of bribery, whether this type of report will make any impact remains to be seen. What it does shed a stark light on, however, is the fact that it is not the average wealthy BMW driver who is coughing up bribes most often; it’s the poor who are being bullied into paying bribes more often than not.

When asked if it was easy to navigate daily life without paying a bribe, lower income groups answered with a resounding no. 48% of respondents who earn less than R100 000 per annum thought it was difficult to get away without paying a bribe, compared to 27% of the higher income group. The poorer people are also far more vulnerable to paying bribes for jobs.

The survey did have some good news: Last year’s research indicated that there were significantly more bribes in the R5 001 to R10 000 category, meaning that the number of higher value bribes has fallen. In addition, the survey found that while people are paying bribes‚ far more are choosing not to. 60% of those asked to pay bribes declined to pay, some for moral reasons (50%)‚ some because they could not afford to (13%)‚ and others for fear of consequences (11%).

The fact that the country needs an annual bribery survey indicates that this has become a way of life for many, but the research provides a sliver of hope that corruption across all walks of life is lessening in South Africa.

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