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Corruption Watch sees whistle-blower reports spike during pandemic

An annual report by Corruption Watch indicates that brutality and corruption among police officers is a common complaint.
An annual report by Corruption Watch indicates that brutality and corruption among police officers is a common complaint.
Image: Sunday Times/Alaister Russel

Bribery, brutality and abuse of power are some of the key trends uncovered within the police service in the latest analysis published by Corruption Watch.

The organisation released its 2020 edition of the Analysis of Corruption Trends (ACT) report on Tuesday. It demonstrated growing concerns about corruption levels in SA.

According to Melusi Ncala, the primary researcher for the report, it also illustrated that the will of the public to expose the corrupt and seek consequences remained strong during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The reports we receive provide a snapshot of the graft that has manifested in every sphere of government, with the complicity of the private sector, and encompassing multiple sectors in our society.

“The destruction wrought by corruption is silent but deadly, and it is most often the poorest in society who are brutalised by the actions of these corrupt individuals,” said Ncala.

Corruption Watch said close to 2,000 people blew the whistle on corruption during the first half of 2020, an increase of more than 400 reports received compared to the same period last year.

Bribery featured in 31% of complaints received by the organisation, and these were specifically about police corruption.

“During the lockdown, officers seemed to act with impunity in both their behaviour and extraction of favours — patterns that also featured in 29% of allegations relating to abuse of power,” said Corruption Watch.

For the second consecutive year, police corruption at 13% led in terms of overall complaints received by the organisation.

“Whistle-blowers express their despondency and consternation with the police service in an assortment of allegations, which principally highlight brutality, inconsideration and inhumanity towards the public, and a lack of regard for law and order that officials and officers display,” said the report.

“We understand police officers solicit bribes from suspects and victims of crimes, and sometimes from small businesses as well as ordinary members of the public. These demands for bribes are to allow alleged criminals, generally drug dealers, to operate with impunity or to ‘make dockets disappear'.

“Small businesses, mostly informal traders, have their goods confiscated, only to have them returned should the owners be willing to pay whatever amount of money is asked for,” stated the report.

In some instances, officers alluded to the fact that they had the power and means to make a member of the public’s life “very difficult” should they be unwilling to co-operate.

“Such cases were common during the lockdown. During this time, it was alleged in a few incidents from the police corruption cases received that officers would conduct random stop and searches and raids.

“We are informed that sporadic acts of violence occurred when the officers accused people of not complying with lockdown rules and regulations. Ironically, other abuses of power that police are said to have committed involve the selling of banned goods, mostly alcohol and cigarettes, and allowing unauthorised businesses to trade during the same period,” read the report.

Corruption at local government level accounted for 5% of all reports received from January 2020 to the end of June.

The specific corruption cases relate to traffic incidents and licensing centres. In municipal offices, the most prevalent form of corruption was the misappropriation of resources, accounting for 35% of these corruption cases.

“We have learnt from whistle-blowers that officials and employees at municipalities have embezzled and mismanaged funds meant for service delivery and development in communities. In some cases, it is reported that tens of millions of rand are unaccounted for and that these funds were allocated for the construction of sport facilities, roads and houses.

“A disturbing trend that has emerged during the Covid-19 crisis is the theft of food parcels. SA’s efforts to combat the pandemic have indirectly resulted in an increase in food insecurity for large groups of our population. Some ward councillors or elected officials have allegedly stolen the contents of food parcels and resold it back to their communities,” said the report.

Ncala said: “Ordinary people show immense courage in outing these corrupt individuals. They make it clear the situation must change. This can’t go on. Whether unruly police officers, greedy executives and their government counterparts, teachers and principals at schools who see nothing wrong in stealing food and resources from learners, or health sector professionals who endanger the lives and wellbeing of the sick through their outright theft of resources, they must all be brought to book.”



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