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Cape Town - Almost half of South Africans who came into contact with government officials (47 percent) paid a bribe to them in the past year, a high-profile international survey of state corruption has found.
The figure is significantly higher than the 31 percent global average.
The annual Transparency International Global Corruption Barometer released on Wednesday showed that of the South Africans in the survey, 74 percent had come into contact with police in the past 12 months, and 36 percent of these had paid a bribe to a policeman.
Most bribes in South Africa were paid for permit services (39 percent), while 30 percent said that they had paid bribes to officials in the judicial system.
The survey asked respondents if they had bribed officials in eight categories - police, registry or permit services, the judiciary, education, medical or health services, utilities, tax or customs, and land services.
Forty-seven percent said they had bribed at least one official in the previous 12 months.
Asked why they had done so, 41 percent said they had hoped “to speed things up” and 36 percent said a bribe was the only way they could get the service they needed.
The survey polled 114 000 people in 107 countries. In South Africa, it entailed face to face interviews with a demographically weighted sample of 1 000 urban residents.
In addition to asking respondents whether they had resorted to bribery, it tested perceptions of corruption in each of the countries.
In South Africa, 83 percent viewed the police force as the most corrupt institution in the public sector.
South Africa was among 36 countries in which the police force was seen as the most corrupt institution.
The South African public also has a dim view of political parties, with 77 percent believing them to be corrupt. The survey found 74 percent believed civil servants were corrupt, while 70 percent said Parliament or the legislature is corrupt.
More than half of the people interviewed (54 percent) thought that the business sector was corrupt, 40 percent that the media were corrupt, 43 percent that NGOs were corrupt, and 50 percent that the judiciary was corrupt.
Corruption Watch executive director David Lewis said the findings confirmed that the increase in corruption was “not a mere perception”.
“We solicit public experiences of corruption and we are getting a significant number of reports of bribery and other acts of corruption, especially from poor communities,” Lewis said.
He said Corruption Watch had received more than 4 200 complaints about corruption and related matters since its launch in January last year. He said half of these focused on the abuse of public power and resources by the private and public sectors.
Nearly nine out of 10 people surveyed said they would act against corruption. Two thirds of those who had been asked to pay a bribe had refused.
In 20 of the 107 countries, respondents viewed the judiciary as the most corrupt. In these countries, on average 30 percent of the people who had come into contact with the judicial system had been asked to pay a bribe.
About 54 percent of the people surveyed globally considered their government to be ineffective in fighting corruption. In the 2010/11 survey, 47 percent of people had thought their government was ineffective in fighting corruption.
Almost two thirds (64 percent) of the people around the world thought personal contacts were important in getting things done in the public sector. This went up to 80 percent in Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Malawi, Morocco and Russia.
Staff Writer and Sapa