Dear Corruption Watch,
I run a small driving school but am being driven out of business by corrupt competitors. These driving instructors team up with the examiners at the testing centre and share the proceeds of bribes.
They even have special signals and vocabulary, such as turning the rear-view mirror around, used to indicate which of their students should pass or fail – before they take the test! Is it possible for private citizens to mount a "sting" operation, and could evidence collected be used by the police to bring a case?
There is no legal obstacle preventing you from collecting evidence to give to the police for a criminal prosecution.
Such evidence could also be provided to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the public protector, or to any of the other authorities we list at the end of this column. The evidence you gather may form the basis of an investigation, and may be admissible for the purposes of a criminal prosecution, provided it was not obtained unlawfully or unconstitutionally.
Evidence provided by private citizens is often used in criminal prosecutions and other investigations. For example, whistle-blowing legislation is designed to protect certain categories of people who discover evidence of corruption and inform the authorities.
Proceed with caution
However, we would advise some caution about pursuing this course of action.
First, if your evidence-gathering activities are discovered, and if it threatens the livelihood or liberty of criminals, there is a chance you might be in personal danger.
Second, it is not guaranteed that the police or the NPA will have the resources or desire to follow up on the evidence you provide. The unfortunate reality is that our crime-fighting resources are scarce and there may be different priorities.
Third, you should also be aware that your own conduct, or that of those who might assist you, might constitute a crime in its own right. If, for example, you offer a bribe, there is no guarantee that the NPA or police would understand your lofty purpose rather than seeing you as just another criminal.
We would therefore recommend thinking carefully about your plans, and possibly discussing the matter with someone in law enforcement, either from the NPA or the police, to gauge their interest in your possible evidence.
They might be able to give you some practical advice about how to proceed.
There are also several other options in the context of corruption relating to driver's licences:
- The evidence can be provided to the Special Investigating Unit. For contact details, visit www.siu.org.za/contact-us;
- The Road Traffic Management Corporation has established a National Traffic Anti-Corruption Unit to deal with unethical conduct relating to traffic. The number is 0861 400 800 (not toll-free);
- If the corruption you refer to involves a public servant, it can be reported to the Public Service Commission, an independent institution established under chapter nine of the constitution that oversees the public service. Contact the national anti-corruption hotline for the public service on 0800 701 701 (toll-free); and
- You can also report the matter anonymously to Crime Stop, a toll-free hotline run by the police. The number is 08600 10111.
Do you face an ethical dilemma? Do you suspect corruption? If you need help to resolve such issues, write to the Corruption Watch experts at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mark your letter ‘Dear Corruption Watch'.
• This article was first published in Sunday Times: Business Times