Dear Corruption Watch
I am a taxi driver. I work long hours under stressful conditions. I try my best to keep my taxi in repair, obey traffic regulations and make a living for my family.
But sometimes I don't know what to do. The cops are always stopping us. Last month I got stopped 20 times each week. Each time I must pay: Sometimes it is a cool drink, sometimes it is money. Sometimes I have something wrong with my vehicle, most times I do not. If I say I don't have the amount he asks for and offer something less, he says he'll arrest me for offering him a bribe! How can I earn a living, keep my taxi roadworthy and still not pay bribes?
Signed, Trying Hard
Dear Trying Hard
Corruption in the JMPD is a major problem. But the purely principled advice is simple: you should never pay bribes. The cycle of corruption will only stop when citizens stop paying bribes. This is not impractical advice. If you refuse to pay any bribe, the officer cannot threaten to report you for offering too little. A recent Corruption Watch report on corruption in the JMPD found that if you refuse to pay a bribe, the officer will often let you go, even if you have committed a violation. There is always a risk that you will be arrested, delayed or harassed if you refuse to pay a bribe, but research shows that instances where a fine ''is actually written or an arrest process is initiated, appear to be rare". Moreover, if you acted within the law, an officer is less likely to solicit a bribe. There is a risk in refusing to pay bribes, but it is the right thing to do, and if you play by the rules it will probably save you money in the long run.
But perhaps the risk of arrest, harassment or delay is too great. The margins for taxi drivers are tight and even a short delay while the officer attempts to force a bribe will make your day unprofitable. If you have to pay the bribes to stay in business, what other action can you take?
There is no silver bullet. The only solution is systemic action to make the JMPD less corrupt. Much of that work must come from the JMPD itself. Until that happens, you will still be confronted with demands for bribes. But there are two things you can do to assist systemic change.
First, you can report corrupt behaviour. There are many obstacles to this. Often police officers use code like "lunch money" for a bribe. Many corrupt officers do not wear their name tags, so you cannot report them, and there is a risk that you will be victimised if you do report. But when you can, you should report them on the JMPD's corruption hotline: 0800 203 712. You can also lay a criminal complaint at any SAPS office or with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate at 011 220 1500. Police behaviour will only change if there are consequences for corruption.
Second, the JMPD is so corrupt because the majority of drivers pay bribes. Try to convince your fellow taxi drivers not to pay bribes, either informally, or through driver associations. If no drivers pay bribes, police officers will not waste their time (and yours). It will also be far more difficult to arrest, harass or victimise drivers if all drivers do the right thing. Of course, mobilising taxi drivers is much easier said than done, but the problem of corruption demands a collective response.
Take a stand and report corruption. This article originally appeared in The Sunday Times Business Times on 29 April 2012.