How does corruption among governement officicals become the norm in some countries?
The former head of the civil service of one of the poorest countries in the world describes what happened to the excellent civil service he had helped build in his own country. During a dinner with Paul Collier (Director for the Study of African Economies at Oxford Uiversity), he describes how the civil service became a vehicle for looting the country, rather than for developing the country.
The former director asked Paul “to imagine being a school boy in his country on the eve of independence. The bright boys in the class aspired to join the civil service to help build the country. At the other end of the class, what were the aspirations for the dumb class bully? Forget the civil service with its tough exam. So the class bully set his sights on the army. Fast-forward two decades and a coup d’état. The army was now running the government. Between the class bullies, now the generals, and their objective of looting the public sector, stood the class stars now running the civil service. The generals didn’t like it. Gradually they replaced the clever boys with people more like themselves. And as they promoted the dumb and corrupt over the bright and the honest, the good chose to leave.”
Paul Collier says that economists have a name for this: “selection by intrinsic motiviation.”
While there are probably a number of paths to government officials becoming corrupt, sometimes honest and reform-minded politicians come to power. “It is very difficult for them to implement change because they inherit a civil service that is an obstacle rather than an instrument. It is hostile to change because individual civil servants profit fromt he tangled mess of regulations and expenditures over which they preside,” Collier explains.
Fighting bribery and corruption from the top down, by the use of threats, doesn’t seem to help much in diminishing the problem. How poor governments spend money and their lack of accountability is a major problem. In Chad (in 2004) only one percent of the money released by the Ministry of Finance intended for rural health clinics actually reached those clinics, according to a tracking survey. Another survey in Uganda (mid-1990s) found thad only 20 percent of the money that the Ministry of Finance released for primary schools (other than teachers’ salaries) actually reached those schools.
Ugandan Finance Minister Tumusiime-Mutebile (now the governor of the Central Bank of Uganda) decided to try a new approach. Instead of suppressing the shameful report, Tumusiiime-Meutebile took action. “Each time the Ministry of Finance released money, it informed the local media, and it also sent a poster to each school setting out what it should be getting.” Only three years later, 90 percent of the money was getting through to the schools.
It’s difficult to find solutions to the power of corruption, but let this example serve as a shining beacon of hope to those who are looking for solutions.
(For more information see Paul Collier’s excellent small book, written for the general public, The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can be Done About It, Oxford University Press, 2007.)