By Jutta Wolf
A man raped a nine-year old girl who was on her way to school and infected her with HIV. The Zimbabwean police initially arrested the attacker, but then released him in secret. The reason: he paid bribe.
This case is by no means an exception The police and private sector have regularly been rated as highly corrupt, says Transparency International in a report entitled People and Corruption: Africa Survey 2015, adding: “we hear stories like this every day . . . In many countries you can pay off police officers to ignore any crime, however horrific and devastating – it’s just a matter of price.”
In fact, says the report, bribery affects more than one one-in-five Africans. “Shockingly, we estimate that nearly 75 million people have paid a bribe in the past year – some of these to escape punishment by the police or courts, but many also forced to pay to get access to the basic services that they desperately need.”
For this latest African edition of the Global Corruption Barometer, Transparency International partnered with the Afrobarometer, which spoke to 43,143 respondents across 28 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa between March 2014 and September 2015 to ask them about their experiences and perceptions of corruption in their country.
“A majority of Africans perceive corruption to be on the rise and think that their government is failing in its efforts to fight corruption; and many also feel disempowered as regards to taking action against corruption. In Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Liberia and Ghanai citizens are the most negative about the scale of corruption in their country,” notes the report.
However, the results also highlight that there are a small number of countries in the region that are seen as doing quite well in addressing the scourge of corruption – where only a few people have to pay bribes or where citizens feel that they can contribute to stopping corruption.
According to the report, citizens in Botswana, Lesotho, Senegal and Burkina Faso tend to have the most positive views compared with citizens from other countries in the region.
The main finding of the report is that there is a clear disparity between a few strong performing countries in regard to anti-corruption and the many weak performers on anti-corruption across the continent.
Transparency International perceives in this finding both a hopeful message, that addressing corruption is indeed possible, as well as a disappointing message, as most African countries have failed to make headway in stemming the tide of corruption.
The report sums up its main findings as follows:
1. The majority of Africans (58%) say that corruption has increased over the past year. This is particularly the case in South Africa where more than four-in-five citizens (83%) say they have seen corruption rise recently.
2. There is no government, which is rated positively on its anti-corruption efforts by a clear majority of its citizens. On the contrary, 18 out of 28 governments are seen as fully failing to address corruption by a large majority.
3. The survey asked how much corruption there was in 10 key institutions and groups in society. Across the region, the police and business executives are seen to have the highest levels of corruption. While the police have regularly been rated as highly corrupt, the strongly negative assessment of business executives is new compared to previous Transparency International Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) survey rounds.
4. Twenty-two per cent of people that have come into contact with a public service in the past 12 months in Sub-Saharan Africa have paid a bribe, but the situation is worst in Liberia where nearly seven-in-ten paid a bribe. Across the continent, poor people are twice as likely as rich people to have paid a bribe, and in urban areas they are even more likely to pay bribes.
5. Out of six key public services, people who come into contact with the police and the courts are the most likely to have paid a bribe. This is consistent with previous Transparency International surveys and highlights the lack of progress made in addressing bribery in these two institutions, which are crucial for citizen security and the rule of law.
6. People in the region are divided as to whether ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption – just over half of people think that they can (53 per cent), while 38 per cent think they cannot. Reporting incidences when they occur, or saying no when asked to pay a bribe, are seen as the most effective things people can do. However, only roughly one-in-ten people who paid a bribe actually reported it.
7. Despite this, turning back corruption is possible. There are a few countries in which citizens see low levels of corruption in their public institutions and see corruption as on the wane in their own country. The views of citizens in Botswana, Lesotho, Senegal and Burkina Faso are particularly favourable.
As corruption can be a major hindrance for development and economic growth, and as it weakens people’s trust in government and the accountability of public institutions, the report calls on governments to act against the corruption, which exists in their country by resorting to concerted measures.
These include strengthening and enforcing legislation on corrupt business people and anti-money laundering to curb the high volume of illicit flows from the continent. This could address the negative perception of business if those profiting are held to account.
Governments are asked to establish right to information and whistle-blower protection legislation to facilitate the role of civil society in making public institutions more transparent, accountable and corruption-free.
Transparency International wants governments to show a sustained and deep commitment to acting on police corruption at all levels by promoting reforms that combine punitive measures with structural changes over the short- and medium-term. Cracking down on petty bribery has direct impact on the most vulnerable in society.
Also the African Union and its members, emphasizes Africa Survey, should provide the political will and financing needed to implement the review mechanism established for its anti-corruption convention.