Hostname: page-component-8448b6f56d-t5pn6 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-04-18T14:32:45.663Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

What is The Problem About Corruption?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 November 2008


The systematic investigation of corruption is overdue. There are three main types of literature in English on the subject: historical studies of corrupt practice in Britain; inquisitional studies, mainly of the U.S.A. and the English-speaking West African and Asian countries; and sociological studies which deal with corruption incidentally. So far as I know no general study in English has appeared.1 One reason for this seems to be a widespread feeling that the facts cannot be discovered, or that if they can, they cannot be proved, or that if they can be proved, the proof cannot be published. All these notions seem dubious. There are nearly always sources of information, some of them—such as court records—systematic in their way, and some of them very circumstantial (like privileged parliamentary debates). Many of the people involved are quite willing to talk. And commissions of enquiry have published large amounts of evidence, obtained by unusual powers of compulsion.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1965

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Page 215 note 1 The best known English study is perhaps Norman Gash's Politics in the Age of Peel (London, 1953)Google Scholar. Much of the American literature is reviewed in Key, V. O., Politics, Parties and Pressure Groups (New York, 1955), ch. 13Google Scholar, ‘Party Machine as Interest Group’. See also The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (Philadelphia), 03 1952Google Scholar, special number on ‘Ethical Standards in American Public Life’. The wide range of reports of commissions of enquiry into colonial malpractice is indicated in the footnotes to Wraith, Ronald and Simpkins', Edgar recent work Corruption in Developing Countries (London, 1963)Google Scholar. While the bulk of this material is from West Africa and deals with local government, there are valuable reports from East Africa, and also from India and Malaya and elsewhere. Unfortunately I have not had an opportunity to study Professor Klaveren's, Van series of articles in Vierteljahrschrift für Sozial und Wirtschaftsgeschichte since 1957Google Scholar, referred to in his comments on Smith's, M. G. ‘Historical and Cultural Conditions of Political Corruption Among the Hausa,’ in Comparative Studies in Society and History (The Hague), 01 1964, pp. 164–98.Google Scholar

Page 216 note 1 An interesting and ably-written exception is McMullen, M., ‘A Theory of Corruption,’ in Sociological Review (Keele), 07 1961, pp. 181201Google Scholar. The author has, however, a rather restricted conception of what corruption is, and a number of unwarrantable assumptions about the results.

Page 216 note 2 Wraith and Simpkins, op. cit. pp. 12–13 and 172.

Page 216 note 3 Ibid. p. 35.

Page 217 note 1 Ibid. p. 45.

Page 217 note 2 The authors display a militant ignorance of sociological theory and research, which may be partly a consequence of their reluctance to abandon their ethical absolutism, but seems more a part of the settled philistinism on this matter which is still so depressingly common in Britain. ‘It is always unwise’ (they write of social anthropology) ‘to argue with exponents of this formidable science, since they have their own vocabulary, which differs from that of the ordinary man, and their own concepts, which are not readily understood’ (p. 172), and they proceed to represent the main burden of the social anthropologist's contribution on the subject as being to the effect that all corruption in their sense is the African's idea of a customary gift. One is provoked to echo Campbell-Bannerman's exasperated reply to the outmoded dialectics of Balfour: ‘Enough of this foolery.’

Page 218 note 1 Uganda Parliamentary Debates, 27 09 1963, pp. 179200, and 3 10 1963, pp. 411–21Google Scholar. The Uganda Government subsequently denied that any such sale had taken place.

Page 218 note 2 Report of the Commission of Enquiry into the Working of Port Harcourt Town Council, 1955; quoted in Wraith and Simpkins, op. cit. p. 22.

Page 218 note 3 Third Interim Report of the Senate Committee to Investigate Organised Crime in Interstate Commerce, 1951 (Kefauver Committee), quoted in Turner, H. A., Politics in the United States (New York, 1955), p. 412.Google Scholar

Page 218 note 4 From the Storey Report, Commission of Inquiry into the Administration of Lagos Town Council, 1953 (Lagos, 1954).Google Scholar

Page 219 note 1 See Turner, William, ‘In Defence of Patronage’, in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 01 1937, pp. 22–8Google Scholar, and Riordan, William J., Plunkitt of Tammany Hall (New York, 1958)Google Scholar. Plunkitt coined the phrase ‘honest graft’ in a famous passage: There's an honest graft, and I'm example of how it works. I might sum up the whole thing by sayin': ‘I seen my opportunities and I took 'em.’ Just let me explain by examples. My party's in power in the city and it's goin' to undertake a lot of public improvements. Well, I'm tipped off, say, that they're going to lay out a new park at a certain place. I see my opportunity and I take it. I go to that place and I buy up all the land I can in the neighbourhood. Then the board of this or that makes its plan public and there is a rush to get that land which nobody cared particular for before. Ain't it perfectly honest to charge a good profit and make a profit on my investment and foresight? Of course it is. Well, that's honest graft.

Page 219 note 2 See V. O. Key, op. cit. pp. 395–8.

Page 219 note 3 M. McMullen, op. cit. p. 197.

Page 219 note 4 Hoselitz, Bert F., ‘Levels of Economic Performance and Bureaucratic Structures,’ in Palombara, La (ed.), Bureaucracy and Political Development (Princeton, 1963), p. 190.Google Scholar

Page 220 note 1 Wraith and Simpkins, op. cit. p. 172; although previously they do say ‘The economic effects of all this [corruption] on a country may not be very considerable.’ McMullen also believes the economic costs are high, but his definition of economic cost appears to be somewhat Gladstonian; op. cit. p. 182.

Page 220 note 2 For an interesting discussion of the general question, see Wrigley, C. C., Crops and Wealth in Uganda (Kampala, 1959), pp. 70–3.Google Scholar

Page 220 note 3 Uganda Parliamentary Debates, 8 11 1963, pp. 108112, and 11 11 1963, pp. 137142Google Scholar. Corruption was alleged by the opposition.

Page 220 note 4 Fainsod, M., How Russia is Ruled (Cambridge, Mass., 1958), p. 437.Google Scholar

Page 220 note 5 For a brief but penetrating comment on this see Lewis, W. Arthur, The Theory of Economic Growth (London, 1955), pp. 428–9.Google Scholar

Page 221 note 1 Chinua Achebe provides a fascinating selection in No Longer at Ease (London, 1960), pp. 56 and 87–8Google Scholar. See also Banfield, E. C., The Moral Basis of a Backward Society (Chicago, 1958), ch. 5.Google Scholar

Page 221 note 2 See Report of the Tribunal appointed to inquire into allegations reflecting on the Official Conduct of the Premier of, and certain persons holding Ministerial and other Public Offices in, the Eastern Region of Nigeria (London, 1957).Google Scholar

Page 221 note 3 Lord Denning's Report (London, 1963).Google Scholar

Page 222 note 1 Wraith and Simpkins ally themselves with the analogous minority in West Africa whom they identify as ‘the most eminent and responsible Citizens’ of these Countries; op. cit. p. 173. It appears that Chinua Achebe should be included among these, and to this extent it is permissible to wonder how typical are the reactions of his hero in No Longer at Ease, who has an ultimate and profound revulsion against his own acceptance of bribes.

Page 222 note 2 Uganda Parliamentary Debates, 27 09 1963, p.187.Google Scholar

Page 223 note 1 McMullen, op. cit. p. 182, takes the orthodox view: ‘Investors and entrepreneurs are frustrated and dismayed and may find that the unofficial Cost of starting an enterprise is too great for it to be profitable.’ Another view is that this is one method of reducing excess profits. In the case of extractive industries this has some plausibility. McMullen points out (p. 597) that ‘a group under harsh disability but still possessed of considerable wealth’ provides the ‘optimum conditions for corruption’ and that it is perhaps another ‘useful’ function of corruption to enable economically energetic ethnic minorities to protect themselves.

Page 224 note 1 An official study of civil service corruption in Malaya in the 1950's found much more corruption in those departments of government which provide extensive services than in those which do not.

Page 224 note 2 Dr Lucy Mair has put this excellently: ‘they have been cast for a play in which the dramatis personae are enumerated but the lines are not written. The new African governments are recruited from new men…. The relationship of the leader with his followers, of ministers with their colleagues, with bureaucrats, with the general public, are new relationships.’ The New Nations (London, 1963), p. 123.Google Scholar

Page 224 note 3 Cf. Senator Kefauver's comment on the attitude of Americans to colonial administration before the American Revolution: ‘In a sense the whole populace engaged in the profitable process of mulcting the government—which was after all a hated tyrant—of every possible penny’; The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 03 1952, p. 2.Google Scholar M. G. Smith (op. cit. pp. 191–3) reported some reduction in bribery and extortion in the Zaria area of Northern Nigeria as a result of internal self-government.

Page 225 note 1 McMullen (op. cit. p. 189) puts this point forcefully: ‘The farmer … is uncertain of the exact contents of the various laws that affect him, and uncertain how he stands in relation to them. He knows that he should have a licence for his shotgun but cannot be sure that the one he has is still valid, or if the clerk who issued it cheated him with a worthless piece of paper. He knows he should have paid his taxes, but he has lost his receipt, and anyway there is something called a ‘tax year’, different from a calendar year, which ‘they’ keep on changing … much better give the policeman what he is asking for, or if he is not asking for anything, better give him something anyway … A man does not, says the Ashanti proverb, rub bottoms with a porcupine.’

Page 225 note 2 See the interesting and detailed discussion of this in Southall, A. W. and Gutkind, P. C. W., Townsmen in the Making (Kampala, 1957), p. 189–94.Google Scholar

Page 226 note 1 Lucy Mair, op. cit. pp. 124–5.

Page 226 note 2 ‘In the latter half of the eighteenth century it was taken for granted that the purpose for going into Parliament or holding any public office was to make or repair a man’s personal fortune.’ Jackson, R. M., The Machinery of Local Government (London, 1958), p. 345Google Scholar. (Italicsmine.) It seems clear that during this period there was a tendency for this attitude to become more widespread and the consequences more extensive and expensive, and that this in turn aided the development of the reform movement. However, the use of public office for private gain was a recognised public practice going back to a period in English history when these distinctions were still imperfectly worked out.

Page 228 note 1 Dumont, R., L'Afrique noire est mal partie (Paris, 1962), p. 66.Google Scholar

Page 228 note 2 Cf. Dumont's notorious comparison: ‘A deputy works (?) for three months a year, but receives from 120,000 to 165,000 CFA per month. In six months of salary—i.e. in one and a half months’ work-he makes as much as the average African peasant in 36 years, in a whole life of hard labour.’ Ibid.

Page 229 note 1 See, e.g., Frantz Fanon, Les Damnés de Ia terre, quoted by Dumont, op. cit. pp. 67–8.

Page 229 note 2 Kefauver, op. cit. p. 3.

Page 230 note 1 Achebe, op. cit. p. 169.