Book chapter

Controlling Bureaucratic Corruption (2019)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics


Corruption is a complex social phenomenon. It refers to the abuse of entrusted power for private gain, but it may still mean different things to different people. The definition of corruption applicable in one place may not be suitable in another setting, and the conception of corruption is highly contextualized. Adding to the difficulty of defining corruption is the lack of accurate measurements for the degree of corruption. Objective and subjective measures have been developed by scholars and practitioners, but their reliability and validity have often been challenged. The measurements developed so far are proxies for the level of corruption rather than accurate diagnostic tools. Despite the difficulties of conceptualizing and measuring corruption, its effects on public administration and social development are clearly evident. Corruption causes losses to state coffers, undermines the rule of law and regulatory regimes, distorts the provision of public services, ruins public trust in government, and weakens the overall quality of governance. Corruption may sometimes grease administrative wheels, but it usually benefits only a few individuals or groups and in the long run is detrimental to the society as a whole. When unchecked or under-checked, corruption destabilizes the economy, destroys political legitimacy, and triggers social unrest. This explains why controlling corruption has been a high priority on the government's agenda in most countries and has been the focus of the activities of many civil society organizations. Various anti-corruption strategies are adopted; there are, for example, compliance-based, value-based, top-down, bottom-up, economic, institutional, and cultural approaches to controlling corruption. The configuration of anti-corruption agencies may also differ from country to country, displaying distinctive features. Evidently, there is no "one-size-fits-all" solution to corruption control and prevention. What works or not depends on a country's specific circumstances. However, the experiences of Hong Kong and Singapore in fighting corruption and building clean societies reveal a few important success factors.