White Collar Crime is a serious challenge that we need to fight as a matter of extreme urgency. It is important to contextualize the seriousness of White Collar Crime before discussing it further. There are reasons why White Collar Crime is abominable. It is often committed because of greed. In many instances it is committed by people who are already better off and merely want some more. Money becomes concentrated in the hands of those who already have it.
In fact, the Tax Ombud, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, states that White Collar Crime is the reason why there is a wide gap between the rich and the poor. “People who commit this kind of crime keep on concentrating the wealth in their hands and unfortunately the poor become poorer and poorer, and if this continues, it will eventually lead to some form of instability,” he says.
Judge Ngoepe says that according to recent statistics, South Africa has the widest gap between the poor and the rich. This he says is the reason why the country cannot afford to exacerbate this crime. “Lots of money and wealth is placed in the hands of the few who sit on it instead of the money circulating in the economy to help develop the country. White Collar Crime therefore has a negative impact on the economic development of the country.” It is a crime against the poor.
“This is why in some countries White Collar Crime is viewed as a very serious offence. In countries like China, if one is found guilty of such an offence, they are punished accordingly,” the judge explains.
These kind of crimes, according to Judge Ngoepe, in most instances are committed by people in influential positions such as politicians, business people and yet these are people who should be seen as role models in society.
For the country to fight this crime effectively, Judge Ngoepe had some Aces up his sleeve. He points out that the Criminal Justice System is of course the most effective instrument to fight crime in the country, because we cannot take the law into our own hands; therefore, we must resort to the Criminal Justice System. It is, however, not the Judiciary alone that fights crime; but a whole chain comprising the following links: the citizenry, the South African Police Service, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Judiciary and the Correctional Services. He says each link must play its role effectively, after all, he says, any chain is as strong as its weakest link. The entire system must be able to deal with criminal cases expeditiously.
He points out that the first link of the chain is citizens. They are the first link in the fight against crime because everyone should be a “watch dog” in their community. “When we see crime we must be whistleblowers and report it to the law enforcement agencies. The Tax Ombud, however, acknowledges that this link still needs to be strengthened to build trust between the citizens and the law enforcement bodies.
The second link of the chain according to Judge Ngoepe is the Police Department. In this regard he points out that competent police officers who are well trained and free of corruption are needed. “There is no excuse for the police to be corrupt. The police need to do their work with pride,” he said.
Thirdly, we have the National Prosecution Authority and again the judge points out that competent prosecutors who are well trained and free of corruption are needed in this area. “We have had instances where prosecutors where found guilty of corruption and this is a clear indication of the kind of problems we have within our systems,” says Judge Ngoepe. Such instances were however, exceptionally few.
The fourth link in the chain that was noted by the judge is the Judiciary. It is his view that we generally have an efficient Judiciary both at the lower and higher courts levels. In this regard, Judge Ngoepe made reference to exceptional instances of untoward behaviour by magistrates during his time as a judge, but which were dealt with. In his view, we do not have a corrupt Judiciary.
Judge Ngoepe says his view on the punishment of White Collar Crime by the higher courts is that they are generally soft when they punish these kind of crimes. “I believed that if the Judiciary can deal firmly with this kind of crime we will have some form of improvement in the country. As I said in some countries White Collar Crime is not tolerated and should you commit such a crime you will be dealt with severely. Therefore, we need courts that will not tolerate this crime.” he says.
The final link of the chain as stated by Judge Ngoepe is the Correctional Services, with particular reference to its Parole Boards. “The parole system should not be used in such a way as to release people prematurely, who have not fully paid their debt to society. There are cases where people go to prison and only for us to find that, a few months later, they are clutching at a Bible and claim to have been transformed. As a result, within a few years they are given parole because they have ‘repented’ or ‘rehabilitated.’” It is important to note that there are citizens who complain about people who go on parole too soon. This ends up undermining the credibility of the system.
“We need to balance all the requirements properly before releasing people on parole. All factors must be put forward for proper balancing because if we do not do this, people will get the impression that we release people on parole too easily and too soon. This could cause people to lose confidence in the system,” the judge says. They may become discouraged from reporting crime.
In conclusion, Judge Ngoepe says in order to successfully combat White Collar Crime, all the links of the chain must work together.