Why are Africa's poor more likely than the rich to pay a bribe for public services?

19th January 2017

Research in Africa has consistently found that the poor are more likely than the better off to pay bribes to state officials for public services. This matters for all sorts of reasons, but from a state-building and developmental perspective, the crisis of trust that corruption can trigger can be devastating. When services are pushed just that bit further away by public-servants-turned-corrupt-gatekeepers, it is likely to colour the already jaundiced perceptions that hard-pressed communities may have of state institutions and of their legitimacy; and also, as Seligson puts it, of ‘the broader national governance frameworks in which they are located’.

So why are Africa’s poor more vulnerable to bribery for publicly provided services than those who are wealthier, who could afford to pay larger bribes? Scholars have so far argued that the poor are seen as 'easy targets' by bribe-seeking bureaucrats: the poor have less power, fewer influential connections and less knowledge about what they are entitled to, making them less likely to resist or report requests for bribes.

But there is another possible explanation: the poor simply use state services more than those who can afford privately provided services, and therefore come into contact with corrupt state officials more often.  

In a new study, Richard Rose and I test which of these explanations is more accurate. We analyse Afrobarometer survey responses from 51,605 people across 34 African countries (2011-2013).

First we explore whether Africa’s poor are more likely than the better off to pay a bribe even for services that only the state provides. When non-state providers also offer a service – such as healthcare or education, for instance – people with enough money can choose the provider they prefer. But for some services everyone must interact with the state, irrespective of personal circumstances – when they need official documents and permits or police services, for example.

 

...once the impact of poverty on an individual’s likelihood of using state services is taken into account, poverty has no independent impact on bribery.

We find that while the poor are more likely than the wealthier to pay a bribe for state services that other providers also offer (‘choice’ services), they are not more or less likely to do so for ‘monopoly’ state services. This suggests that in Africa frequency of contact with state providers may be more important than people’s socioeconomic status in determining their vulnerability to bribery for state services.

 

This is confirmed when we take a closer look at why the poor are more likely to be ‘choice service’ bribe payers. We find that, once the impact of poverty on an individual’s likelihood of using state services is taken into account, poverty has no independent impact on bribery.

So if Africa’s poor are more likely than the better off to pay a bribe for state-provided ‘choice services’ because they are more likely to use them, what policy implications might this have?

Expanding choice through privatisation has been a common policy response to bribery and inefficiency in public services: profit-making institutions are thought to be both more efficient and more effective in reducing employee bribe-taking. Our study does not look at the existence or extent of bribery in privately provided services. But it highlights that a genuine choice of provider depends on access: the potential of non-state services to benefit the poor depends on how easily the poor can access them.

State-provided vouchers are one means that could enable more poor people to access private services. But voucher schemes could of course involve some risks. If vouchers did not fully meet the charges and higher numbers of better off people used private services, inequality could increase: policymakers would need to ensure that the poor did not become even more disproportionately vulnerable to corruption in public services.

Read more about the study's findings and see coverage in The Washington Post.

 

Image: Women in North Darfur queue to be examined by doctors, 2012 (Photo: UNAMID).

0 Comments

Leave a comment

The views expressed in Opinions posts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of DLP, the Australian Government or DLP's partner organisations.

Author

Caryn Peiffer

Caryn Peiffer

Dr Caryn Peiffer is co-investigator on the 'Islands of Integrity' project funded by the British Academy/Global Challenges Research Fund Sustainable Development Grant programme. She is Lecturer in International Public Policy at the University of Bristol and a former DLP Research Fellow. 

Read more

Related items

Ghana's democracy is driving great progress in health and education

We still don't know whether democracy drives development - or vice versa. Guest post for The Guardian

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal18th March 2015

Anti-corruption in Bolivia: fighting greed – or attitudes?

Social attitudes towards corruption may be shaped by beliefs and values, rather than facts.

Opinion by Nieves Zúñiga29th June 2015

Reforming FIFA: what can we learn from experience with (other) corrupt autocrats?

FIFA may not be a developing nation, but international football has its own complex political economy. Guest post for From Poverty to Power.

Opinion by Paul Jackson and Heather Marquette11th June 2015

Security and justice – the mismatch between policy and practice

What hinders more politically nuanced security and justice programming?

Opinion by Shivit Bakrania21st July 2014

Inequality – the politics behind the policies

On the eve of the 2015 DLP Conference, Deputy Director David Hudson kicks off discussion on the conference theme - the politics of inequality.

Opinion by David Hudson11th February 2015

Is fighting corruption like fighting zombies?

Corruption - a scary word. And our childish, simplistic view of it is hampering efforts to fight it. Guest post in The Guardian

Opinion by Heather Marquette13th October 2015

Corruption: unpacking the black box of political will

New thinking on the reasons why individuals engage in corruption - including the pragmatic calculation that, right or wrong, corruption may be the only solution to pressing difficulties. 

Opinion by Heather Marquette12th January 2015

Our money, our projects: Demand-driven community development

Emerging lessons from the Central Land Council’s community development program to strengthen Aboriginal people’s participation in mainstream Australia.

Opinion by David Ross15th April 2016

Corruption research: Hunting for glimmers of light in the gloom

Why it can be hard to start a conversation with the people who might know what really works in the fight against corruption.

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer25th July 2017

Does talking about corruption make it seem worse?

Examining the reluctance of those working in development to engage with the public on the complexity of corruption in poor countries. Guest post for The Guardian's Global Development Professionals Network.

Developmental leaders, 'dirty hands', and the dark side of collaboration

Should donors support developmental leaders who gain or keep power through questionable means? 

Opinion by Niheer Dasandi11th December 2013

Development cooperation and fighting corruption: thinking differently

Corruption is an emotive word and covers a huge range of behaviours - yet anti-corruption efforts still follow a one-size-fits-all pattern.  

Opinion by Heather Marquette24th June 2015

‘Crows who come in search of dollars’: NGO legitimacy in conflict zones

Do political dynamics affect NGO legitimacy more than performance?

Opinion by Oliver Walton19th August 2014

When the stars align to tackle inequality

Reflections on the 2015 DLP annual conference.

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal18th February 2015

The politics of redistribution: we need you

Share your thoughts on episodes of redistribution that have helped redress inequality, and help us shape new research into the politics behind them. 

Opinion by David Hudson16th October 2014

Corruption: is the right message getting through?

Anti-corruption messages aim to recruit citizens to the fight - but what do they actually hear?

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer12th August 2015

Communicating anti-corruption messages in development

If donors are allowed to be open about the possibility of corruption, monitoring mechanisms and proportional responses can be planned - and may improve results. Guest post for the OECD.

Opinion by Heather Marquette9th March 2015

Is education a magic bullet for addressing corruption? Insights from Papua New Guinea

This post for Devpolicy unpacks the findings of a new Development Policy Centre/DLP paper.

Opinion by Grant Walton17th June 2015

Beyond perceptions of corruption?

Corruption is hard to define without straying into the subjective. It's also difficult to build robust methodologies to investigate it.

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer5th February 2015

Elections: transformational, or blunt tools of representation?

How do we explain the profound dissatisfaction with the quality of representation now manifest in democracies everywhere?

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal8th September 2016

Uncounted: has the post-2015 data revolution failed already?

The Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi report tells us that how we measure affects what we do; and if our measurements are flawed, decisions may be distorted.

Opinion by Alex Cobham12th May 2015

Service delivery and state legitimacy: For better or for worse?

DLP research fellow Claire Mcloughlin challenges the widely held assumption that there is a self-reinforcing 'virtuous circle' between service delivery and state legitimacy. 

Opinion by Claire Mcloughlin24th November 2015

Inclusive political settlements: who and what gets included?

DLP hosted a day-long high level introductory workshop on political settlements in June. This post introduces a series that showcases the contributions of researchers, policymakers and practitioners.

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal13th July 2015

Politics shape services; and services shape politics

How governance and sector specialists can help each other understand the politics of service delivery

Opinion by Richard Batley19th June 2014

Different development: walk the talk

The argument for asset-based approaches to development programming and practice that value communities' capacity, skills and knowledge.

Opinion by Gillian Fletcher14th April 2015

Corruption? The developing world has bigger problems

More nuanced anti-corruption work should focus on results - and even put up with some corruption if things are working well. (Guest post for Prospect)

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal26th April 2016

Why are Africa's poor more likely than the rich to pay a bribe for public services?

The poor aren't simply 'easy targets' - they necessarily come into contact with corrupt state officials more often.

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer19th January 2017

Politics - the problem and solution to poor services?

One of the most influential and enduring World Development Reports ever produced – Making Services Work for Poor People – is a decade old this year.

Opinion by Claire Mcloughlin13th March 2014

Fixing aid: we can't turn off the tap at the first sign of corruption

Much 'petty' corruption is about the poor using what little power they have to stave off destitution. (Guest post for The Conversation)

Opinion by Heather Marquette10th November 2014

Corruption: do we target the servant or the paymaster?

Corruption can only be fought effectively with a coherent strategy collectively supported by all actors. (Guest post for The Guardian on UK aid watchdog report)

Opinion by Heather Marquette5th November 2014

Do anticorruption messages work? Findings so far and what they could mean for Papua New Guinea

How do anticorruption messages influence people’s views about corruption and about anticorruption efforts?

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer23rd March 2017

Decentralisation and the potential for corruption in PNG

Guest post for Devpolicy on findings from a DLP-supported study on decentralisation and service provision.

Opinion by Grant Walton30th June 2017

Time for a grown-up conversation about corruption

To combat corruption, we need to understand the deeper political realities, power dynamics and social structures that perpetuate it.

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal9th December 2014

More room for politics in the inequality debate?

Inequality, a hot topic since Pikettymania, and the theme of the DLP conference earlier this year, has resurfaced with a vengeance.

Opinion by David Hudson24th June 2015

Where do inclusive institutions come from? Lessons from Asia

Societies with more inclusive institutions are more peaceful and more resilient, and tend to be better governed - but how do they get there?

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal27th February 2017

Medellin - more than a miracle

Bad news sells. And for news editors looking for horror stories to recycle, Colombia's second largest city used to be a reliable source.

Opinion by Cheryl Stonehouse4th March 2014