Is there a hole in the bucket? Identifying drivers of public sector corruption, effects and instituting effective combative measures

12 Feb 2016

Ethical behaviour and professionalism are cherished values in public service. Public officials, including politicians, are expected to demonstrate them in discharging their official duties. However, in many developing countries these values are honoured more in their breach than observance. Public sector corruption occurs when politicians and / or public servants improperly and unlawfully enrich themselves or those close to them by misusing the public power entrusted to them. Corruption has economic, political, and social costs. It is not an issue that is exclusively, or even primarily, a problem of developing countries. In fact, ethics and corruption are challenges not only for many emerging economies, but also for many countries in the rich world. However, nowhere are the effects of corruption more devastating than in developing countries. It is devastating for the public sectors of many African countries, robbing them of their integrity and undermining effective delivery of essential public services to citizens. Recent news reports indicate that the incidence of corruption in the South African Public Service is at an all-time high, with about 5200 cases pending. The abuse of parliamentary travel vouchers, popularly dubbed 'Travelgate' and the Shabir Shaik trial in the ubiquitous Arms Deal scandal that continues to haunt the government, threaten institutions of national integrity and the very foundations of the new democracy are but two worrying examples. Against this background, the paper examines the causes of public sector corruption, pointing to its drivers that are of a country-specific, rather than generic, nature. It also outlines the costs or effects of corruption. The implications of this analysis for combating public sector corruption in South Africa are clear : the public service might need to be reformed; a dire need exists to radically curb corruption by carefully examining local circumstances that give rise it in order to devise measures including, but not limited to, a new moral crusade to effectively contain it.