Political and Administrative Corruption: Types, Costs, Impact

Political and Administrative Corruption: Types, Costs, Impact

Corruption in Political and Administrative Body Of The Government

A review of penal codes utilized in various ancient civilizations demonstrates that bribery was a serious problem among the Jews, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Greeks, the Romans as well as the Aztecs of the New World. In ancient India, large-scale corruption dominated public life.

As has been observed, “corruption prevailed on a larger scale in India during the ancient period and the ones that followed”. From this, one can assume the nature and scale of the increase in corruption from medieval to the present time in the countries of the Indian subcontinent.

Corruption Through the Ages

One of the greatest evils of medieval administration in India was the extortion of perquisites and presents (Sarkar, 1935:83). Corruption was evident during the British rule in India.

There was almost regular and systematic corruption involving almost all officials at different levels in the political and administrative hierarchy. There was an underlying belief among officials of “making hay while the sun of British Raj shone.”

“If corruption has been an age-old phenomenon, deep-rooted evil, and a universal malady afflicting each and every society in one form or another at one time or another”, then why is there so much concern at the present time with corruption.

The reasons are obvious. Pope of Transparency International provides the raison d’etre for this concern.

Corruption at the highest levels distorts competition, denying the public access to the competitive marketplace.

It induces wrong decisions resulting in wrong projects, wrong prices, wrong contractors, substandard delivery to recoup overpricing, promotes corruption at lower levels, and erodes public confidence in leaders.

The Growing Focus on Corruption

At lower levels, petty corruption is damaging because it adds to transaction costs, excludes those who cannot pay, fosters contempt for public servants among the public, and erodes the capacity for revenue collection (Pope, 1996:23). There are still other reasons why now corruption is receiving serious attention.

First, “there is a widespread perception that the level and pervasiveness of corruption are not only much greater but may well be increasing.

Harris-White and White state that both political and administrative corruption is doggedly entrenched in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia and very much part of Newly Industrialized Countries (NICs) of Southeast Asia, has touched the very highest levels of political office in many Latin American countries and has quickly reached alarming proportions in the post-communist transitional countries including the former Soviet Union and China.

Second, developments in the 1980s and 1990s against the backdrop of increasing economic liberalization, the ‘third wave of democratization,’ and the floating of the good governance agenda have heightened expectations that an effective and root-and-branch cure for corruption may be found.

Third, the coming into prominence of such concepts as decentralization, accountability and transparency, human rights, rule of law, and sustainable development have considerably influenced efforts to minimize political and administrative corruption in many countries.

Defining Corruption

Defining corruption is also important in the context of global efforts to reduce its influence in public life. But this is not an easy task. Corruption is a social, legal, economic, and political concept enmeshed in ambiguity and consequently encouraging controversy.

The ambiguity and controversy resulted from the fact that a number of competing approaches to understanding corruption are available. Naturally, definitions of corruption focus on one of several aspects of the phenomenon.

Various approaches to corruption can be placed into five groups;

  1. public-interest-centered,
  2. market-centered,
  3. public-office-centered,
  4. public-opinion-centered, and
  5. legalistic.

Proponents of the public-interest-centered approach believe that corruption is in some way injurious to or destructive to the public interest.

Market-centered enthusiasts suggest that public office norms have shifted from a mandatory pricing model to a free-market model, thereby considerably changing the nature of corruption.

Public-office-centered protagonists stress that misuse by incumbents of public office for private gain is corruption.

Those who believe in public-opinion-centered definitions of corruption emphasize the perspectives of public opinion about the conduct of politicians, government, and the probity of public servants.

Others have suggested looking at corruption purely in terms of legal criteria given the problems inherent in determining rules and norms that govern public interest, behavior, and authority.

The Challenge in Clarifying Corruption

The five approaches, as discussed above, have concentrated on the nature of corruption. Though the approaches shed some light, they do not clarify the meaning of corruption to any satisfaction.

4 Divergent Views on Defining Corruption

Now, there are four divergent views on the definition of corruption. The definitions have come from moralists, functionalists, social censurists, and social constructionist realists.

The moralists view “corruption as an immoral and unethical phenomenon that contains a set of moral aberrations from the moral standards of society, causing loss of respect for and confidence in duly constituted authority.”

One of the well-known proponents of this view, Nye, portrays corruption as “a behavior that deviates from the formal duties of a public role (elective or appointive) because of private-regarding (personal, close family, private clique) wealth or status gains, or violates rules against the exercise of certain types of private-regarding influence.”

However, this way of defining corruption suffers from a number of limitations.

Functionalists’ Perspective on Corruption

The functionalists usually look at corruption in terms of the actual function that it plays in socio-economic development.

Functionalists make claims that corruption flourishes as a substitute for the market system, offers an acceptable alternative to violence, and increases public participation in public policy. Some functionalists believe that political and bureaucratic leaders may see a national interest in actively pursuing or tolerating a certain degree of administrative corruption.

Social Censure and Construction Reality Approaches

The two comparatively recent perspectives, i.e., social censure and social construction reality, view corruption differently from the other two approaches, i.e., moralists and functionalists. Both approaches tend to look at corruption from a broad societal perspective.

The proponents of social censure believe that in understanding corruption, one should consider the state’s capacity to produce a particular form of social relations and shift the theoretical emphasis to the interplay of law, ideologies, and political economy.

On the other hand, social construction reality views corruption as problematic, and the actors involved can be studied by relating them to contextual information on their social positions, interests, and stakes in the system as well as on the political, economic, and social conditions within which they function (Pavorala, 1996:25).

The Challenge of Unifying Definitions of Corruption

In view of the multitude of approaches and views on corruption, it is not easy to agree on a unanimous definition of the term. Two definitions of corruption can prove handy.

The shorter definition of corruption includes “abuse of authority, bribery, favoritism, extortion, fraud, patronage, theft, deceit, malfeasance, and illegality” (Caiden, 1991a).

The broader definition of corruption refers to the “use of one’s official position for personal and group gain, and that includes unethical actions like bribery, nepotism, patronage, conflict of interest, divided loyalty, influence-peddling, moonlighting, misuse or stealing of government property, selling of favors, receiving kickbacks, embezzlement, fraud, extortion, misappropriation, under-

or over-invoicing, court tampering, phony travel and administrative documents and use of regulation as bureaucratic capital” (AAPAM, 1991). In conformity with these two definitions of corruption, the following definitions of political and administrative corruption are adopted here.

Political corruption is “the behavior of (elected) public officials which diverges from the formal components—the duties and powers, rights and obligations—of a public role to seek private gain” (Kramer, 1997).

Administrative corruption is defined as “the institutionalized personal abuse of public resources by civil servants” (Gould, 1991). In both cases, public officials (elected and appointed) can convert public office into private gain in many ways.

Causes of Corruption

Corruption is a phenomenon that occurs due to the presence of a number of factors. Understanding such factors requires, among other things, a general framework for a clearer understanding of the causes of corruption, especially from a broader perspective.

The genesis of corruption can be explained by looking at three levels—international, national, and individual institutional levels (Goudie and Strange, 1997).

International Influences on Corruption

The competitiveness of international markets provides multinational companies of various sizes with an incentive to offer bribes to gain an advantage over competitors.

National Level Factors Contributing to Corruption

At the national level, the basic development strategy of any government molds opportunities and incentives for corruption.

At the same level, three relationships—between the government and the civil service, between the government and the judiciary, and between the government and civil society—also affect the nature and discussions of corruption.

Sources of Corruption at the Institutional Level

Three areas of government activity—customs administration, business regulation, and the management of foreign aid—act as sources of corruption at the level of individual institutions.

Varied Factors Leading to Corruption

Corruption also results from the presence of several factors. These include;

  • Rapid economic and social change
  • Strong kinship and ethnic ties
  • New institutions
  • Overlapping and sometimes conflicting views about proper public behavior
  • Governmental monopoly over economic activities
  • Political softness
  • Widespread poverty and socioeconomic inequalities
  • Ignorance and lack of knowledge about individual entitlements
  • Communal bonds
  • Ambivalence towards the legitimacy of governmental organizations
  • Asymmetric relationship favoring those in control of state power
  • Economic shortages leading to public officials assuming extraordinary control over scarce goods and services
  • Greed
  • Patronage
  • Systematic maladministration

A Six-Fold Typology of Corruption Factors

Most of the factors mentioned above contributing to corruption can be categorized into a six-fold typology.

  1. Ideological variables
  2. External variables
  3. Economic variables
  4. Political variables
  5. Socio-cultural variables
  6. Technological variables

Why Corruption is Tolerated and Rationalized

Some of the major reasons why people “collude in different ways, rationalize corrupt practices, and tolerate corruption on a large scale” are the presence of several factors.

  • Governments act as monopolies in many respects.
  • Governments and their monopolistic public agencies enjoy discretion in decision-making and allocative roles.
  • Lack of effective accountability in government, except in the nominal sense of presenting annual audited accounts and reports to parliament or answering questions in parliament
  • Citizens have limited information about the rules of the game and the standards of service they can expect from public agencies.
  • The average citizen’s exposure to public sector corruption tends to be episodic.

Forms of Corruption

Corruption takes many forms;

  • Acceptance of money and other rewards for awarding contracts
  • Violation of procedures to advance personal interests
  • Kickbacks from developmental programs or multinational corporations
  • Pay-offs for legislative support
  • Diversion of public resources for private use
  • Overlooking illegal activities
  • Intervening in the justice process
  • Nepotism
  • Common theft
  • Overpricing
  • Establishing non-existing projects
  • Tax collection and tax assessment frauds

Categorizing Corruption by Nature

These many varieties of corruption can be further categorized in terms of their nature:

  1. Foreign-sponsored corruption: Involving public officials, politicians, and representatives of donor and recipient countries
  2. Institutionalized corruption: Supported by bureaucratic elites, politicians, businessmen, and white-collar workers
  3. Political scandal corruption: Involving bureaucratic elites, politicians, businessmen, and middlemen
  4. Administrative malfeasance corruption: Led by petty officials and interested individuals

Differentiating Types of Corruption

Corruption has been differentiated into three types: collusive, coercive, and non-conjunctive:

  1. Collusive corruption: Involving willing and active participation of corruptees to induce wrong action or inaction from authorities for greater benefit than the costs of corruption
  2. Coercive corruption: Corruption forced upon the corruptee by those in positions of power and authority
  3. Non-conjunctive corruption: Benefits obtained at someone else’s cost, with victims unaware of their victimization

Strategies to Sustain Corruption

The beneficiaries have used five major strategies—mystification, distancing, folklore, colonization, and pacification—to protect, promote, and sustain corruption in diverse contexts.

Costs of Corruption

Corruption is not cost-neutral. There have been claims that not everything is bad about corruption. Its effects can be positive, too.

Corruption, among other things, assists in capital formation, fosters entrepreneurial abilities, allows business interests to penetrate bureaucracy, and permits the logic of the market to insinuate itself into transactions from which public controls exclude it .

The Overwhelming Negative Impact of Corruption

However, overwhelming evidence in recent decades suggests that the impact of corruption has been and continues to be negative on all fronts.

Corruption has a negative, deleterious, and devastating influence on investment and economic growth, administrative performance and efficiency, and political development.

The continuance of corruption in a country leads to economic malaise and squandering of public resources, lowers governmental performance, adversely affects general morale in the public service, jeopardizes administrative reform efforts and accountability measures, and perpetuates social and economic inequalities.

Corruption’s Role in Political Instability and Economic Underdevelopment

Corruption reinforces political instability and underdevelopment (Ouma, 1991). In short, corruption impedes economic growth, stifles entrepreneurialism, misuses scarce national resources, weakens administrative capacity, contributes to serious political decay, and undermines stability, democracy, and national integration (Theobald, 1990).

Checking Corruption

Checking corruption is no easy task. Still, no one denies the need to check corruption effectively. It may not be possible to eradicate corruption completely, but vigorous and determined actions will go a long way to minimize it.

The measures suggested are too many and defy any easy characterization. To contain and minimize corruption, a number of measures have been recommended:

  • Driving out corruption using usually one-off purges or campaigns
  • Setting up anti-corruption boards, commissions, and the like
  • Campaigns for moral regeneration or moral re-armament
  • Strengthening checks on abuse of power
  • Enhancing the accountability of the powerful as well as public officials
  • Ensuring transparency and openness in governmental activities
  • Developing positive social attitudes
  • Enforcing a code of public ethics
  • Supporting the role of media
  • Improving educational procedures

To reduce corruption drastically, a number of fundamental changes must be brought about:

  • Reducing opportunities for corrupt transactions by cutting back the state’s activities
  • Emergence of new centers of power outside the bureaucracy
  • Development of competitive party politics
  • Ascendance of universalistic norms
  • Effectuation of far-reaching administrative reform measures affecting policy, institutional, and process levels
  • Strengthening preventive structures
  • Tightening prosecuting techniques

What is important about checking corruption is that to be successful, one must take into consideration both short-term and long-term views for combating corruption.

Global Perspectives on Corruption: A Comparative Analysis

The experiences of several countries regarding corruption are reviewed in this subsection. A cross-country survey covers the nature, scope, and types of corruption, as well as the measures taken to curb corruption and the outcomes of such efforts.

However, it needs to be stated that not all aspects of corruption have been covered in the countries concerned, mostly due to the non-availability of information.

Corruption in the Philippines: Extensive and Deep-rooted

In the Philippines, the network of corruption in the public sector is extensive:

  • Petty fixers
  • Workers at lower levels of the organizational hierarchy
  • Mid-level officials taking undue advantage of their positions
  • Elite individuals whose profits from corruption transactions with the government run into millions of pesos
  • Elite individuals whose powerful positions render them almost untouchable by law enforcement agencies

Six types of corruption in the public sector of the Philippines have been identified.

  1. Tong (collusive) corruption
  2. Legal corruption
  3. Arreglo corruption
  4. Retainer corruption
  5. Favor corruption
  6. Individualized corruption
  7. Systematic corruption

Anti-graft and investigatory agencies appointed by several Philippines Presidents failed to effectively check corruption due to organizational instability, frequent changes in leadership, political pressure in employee recruitment, public apathy, and strained relations with other branches and agencies of the government.

Uganda’s Struggle with Corruption

In Uganda, corruption is the outcome of self-aggrandizement, unrealistically low remuneration for public servants, and a closed political system (Ouma, 1991).

Corruption has resulted in the loss of badly needed revenue and skilled manpower, distorted priorities of public policy, and shifted scarce resources away from the public interest (Ouma, 1991). Naturally, distrust among different segments of society has increased, and the despondency of the people at large has been exacerbated.

Institutionalized Corruption in Ghana

In Ghana, the institutionalization of corruption in the government is fascinating. In one ministry, bribe money is divided in the following manner: 50% to the minister, 20% to the junior ministers, 10% to a go-between, 10% to the secretary of the political party in power, and the rest to an open cash fund kept by the minister for expenses like paying informers within the ministry, providing gifts to individual visitors, and maintaining attractive women around the office.

The causes for such widespread political corruption are traditional contexts and effects of colonialism, the new men who inherited political leadership after independence, and the bureaucratic transition from a colonial to an indigenous administrative system.

Political corruption took its toll in the form of waste of resources, instability, and a reduction in the capacity of government.

India’s Battle Against Corruption

It is now commonly agreed that corruption has vitiated India’s public life, like cancer spreading over the human body.

All sectors, whether administrative, political, or economic, have come under the ever-increasing onslaught of corruption. There are many reasons as to why this has happened. Political actors of all shades, including ministers, legislators, office-bearers of political parties, and other political office-holders, are involved in corruption.

Members of the public bureaucracy are no less corrupt. Measures taken to combat corruption, like setting up inquiry commissions, have failed.

Successive governments have not taken the findings of these commissions seriously, and consequently, their recommendations have gathered dust. At the same time, some of the commissions were created with mala fide and political intent.

Corruption control is possible only by adopting and implementing four national agendas. They are reforming the political process, restructuring and reorienting the government machinery, empowering the citizens, and creating sustained public pressure for change (Guhan and Paul, 1997).

Under each, a number of appropriate and timely recommendations are made to cleanse the widespread corruption that exists in India at all levels, touching almost each and every governmental institution and its functionaries.

Singapore and Hong Kong’s Successful Anti-Corruption Strategies

Singapore and Hong Kong are two countries whose success in effectively tackling corruption in the public service is well known.

When the People’s Action Party (PAP) came to power in June 1959, it found a corrupt colonial bureaucracy in place. The PAP, still in power, realized something had to be done to minimize corruption in the Singapore Civil Service (SCS).

Over a period of time, the PAP government introduced a number of measures to curb corruption. The then-existing Prevention of Corruption Ordinance was amended and replaced with the Prevention of Corruption Act (POCA) to curb opportunities for corruption and increase the penalty for corrupt behavior.

At the same time, POCA gave additional powers to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau. It is obvious that Singapore’s anti-corruption strategy has been effective because it is designed to remove two major causes of corruption – incentives and opportunities.

Corruption in Hong Kong’s public service had been well entrenched. Public officials were known to make money utilizing their positions. But the situation changed drastically with the arrival of a new Governor, Sir Murray MacLehose, in 1973. He established an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

Under the leadership of a distinguished former public official, the ICAC was given a wide array of powers. The ICAC had the power to arrest people on suspicion, search and seize without a warrant, require information, freeze assets, and property, and prevent people from leaving the colony (Caiden, 1991b: 249).

The Commission was assisted in its operations by five advisory committees on Corruption, Operations Review, Prevention, Community Relations, and Complaints, drawn from a cross-section of the population and reported directly to the Governor (Caiden, 1991b: 249).

The ICAC was organized into three areas:

  • an operations department to investigate, arrest, and help prosecute suspects;
  • a corruption prevention department to restructure government organizations to reduce opportunities for corruption; and
  • a community relations department to change people’s attitudes toward corruption.

Eradicating Corruption

Eradication of corruption should be the nation’s number-one priority in view of the ever-increasing horizon of political and administrative corruption and its baneful multifarious effects on the society-at-large. It needs to be understood by all that eradication of corruption is only possible if strong political commitment exists.

Without strong political commitment, bureaucratic reorientation, and a vibrant and effective civil society, checking corruption turns into a very difficult, almost impossible task.

Given the presence of three crucial variables — committed political leadership, reoriented bureaucracy and an organized and vocal civil society — other policy measures need to be adopted to effectively contain as well as control corruption.

Conclusion: Understanding the Complexity of Corruption

Corruption is a complex, multi-faceted social phenomenon with innumerable manifestations. It takes place as an outcome of deficiencies in the existing public administration apparatuses and systems as well as cultural, economic, political, and social factors.

Differences of opinion still exist as to the meaning of the term corruption.

This is primarily because individuals look at corruption from their own vantage points influenced by the surrounding environment.

But what is heartening is that in recent years corruption is viewed from a much broader perspective rather than looking at it from moral and functional angles only.

The causes of corruption are as varied as the phenomenon itself. Corruption results from the presence of a number of factors. Typologies have been offered to make sense out of so many contributory factors.

There are many forms of corruption.

To understand the dynamics of so many types of corruption, attempts have been made to classify different forms into broad categories. What transpires from such a categorization is that outsiders can sponsor corruption, resulting in political scandal and institutionalized and administrative malfeasance.

The cost of corruption has been enormous regarding a country’s socio-political and economic advancement. What has been conclusively demonstrated is that corruption negatively affects economic growth, administrative efficiency, and political development.

Checking corruption is a crying need in today’s world. At the same time, it is understood that total eradication of corruption is not possible.

But that does not mean in any way that corruption cannot be effectively contained. A number of recommendations have been offered on how to check corruption in a decisive manner. But what has been realized is that in order to reduce corruption, fundamental changes must be brought about drastically without any delay or hesitation.

Experiences in the Philippines, Uganda, Ghana, and India have clearly indicated that corruption networks are extensive and cover public servants of all types within their realms.

What is more alarming is that a rather cozy nexus exists among public servants and politicians in power to share the booties of corruption. Almost all efforts to contain corruption in these countries have been unsuccessful.

On the other hand, the experiences of Hong Kong and Singapore demonstrate in no uncertain terms that given political will and the institution of appropriate anti-corruption mechanisms, the incidence of corruption can be drastically contained.