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A new survey, released last week by the Ethics Institute of South Africa (EthicsSA), sheds some regrettable light on South African ethics – the survey found that resistance to bribery among South Africans who were asked for a bribe, is not as high as it should be.

Titled South African Citizens’ Bribery Survey 2015, the survey was conducted among 6 380 participants. Respondents were drawn from Massmart stores in Gauteng, Durban, Cape Town and Polokwane, and were evenly split in terms of gender, with good representation across age and income groups. The stores involved were Builders Warehouse, Game, Makro, Jumbo and DionWired.

The reason for conducting the survey in this way, said EthicsSA, was because these stores serve people from a wide range of socio-economic groups. By targeting ordinary people, as opposed to businesspeople or government officials, the survey aimed to home in on the views of a good cross-section of the population.

Getting out of trouble

The report revealed that 28% of respondents personally know someone who had been asked for a bribe – the reason for not asking if respondents themselves had been asked for a bribe, said EthicsSA, is because they “might be tempted to give answers that do not put them in a bad light”. By asking them if they knew someone else who paid a bribe,  this problem is avoided.

Of that 28% who answered in the affirmative, 75% said the bribe had been paid. This means that around 20% of people know someone who has paid a bribe, and also that people capitulate easily to demands for a bribe.

The problem is worst in Limpopo, where 48% of respondents were asked for a bribe, followed by KwaZulu-Natal (26%) and Gauteng (25%). Respondents from the Western Cape were asked less frequently, but were more inclined to pay if asked.

The most frequently mentioned amount was R100, while the average bribe paid was R2 006. Tenders brought in the most money, in terms of bribes – the highest average amount paid here was R103 288, followed by housing, which was a distant second at R7 685. The smallest average amount was for a traffic offence, at R219.

The top five reasons given for paying a bribe were:

  • Avoiding traffic offences (34%);
  • Getting jobs (17%) – predominantly for getting a job, but there were also a few mentions of bribes to get a promotion, or to avoid disciplinary action;
  • Getting drivers’ licences (13);
  • Getting tenders (7%) – but there was no indication which sectors were involved;
  • Getting illicit discounts from businesses, or stealing from businesses (4%).

“Perhaps we should be talking more about people’s individual responsibility not to participate in bribery,” said EthicsSA’s CEO Professor Deon Rossouw in a statement.

He also said that the findings show that bribery is prevalent in the private sector, despite a widely held view that it primarily affects the public sector. There were 321 mentions of bribery in the private sector, and 358 mentions relating to the public sector. But across the board, the responses indicated that unskilled or semi-skilled workers were most vulnerable to being exploited.

Hope is not lost

However, 56% of respondents indicated that they and their friends and families are deeply concerned about the bribery situation, while 84% felt that not enough is being done to combat the situation.

Only 26% of people felt that ordinary citizens were helpless to do anything against bribery, and 66% of respondents agreed that people are indeed willing to avoid paying bribes.

Perhaps the most worrying finding is that almost 8 out of 10 people (78%) believe that you can’t get through everyday life without paying a bribe, said EthicsSA. This is concerning because people often behave according to their beliefs.

The organisation stressed that it’s important to point out that in reality 8 out of 10 people don’t pay bribes, if its data is to be believed. The truth is that the majority of South Africans still do get through everyday life without bribing

Questions asked included:

  • How frequently are people asked for bribes?
  • What are these bribes for?
  • How much do people pay for bribes?
  • How likely are people to pay bribes?
  • How acceptable is it to pay a bribe?
  • How concerned are people about bribery?
  • How willing are they to do something about bribery?