n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - Corruption in the public sector : the elusive crime

Volume 17, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1012-8093



Corruption is not a new phenomenon. It has been around since the dawn of time. Tanzi explains that two thousand years ago, Kautilya, the prime minister of an Indian King, wrote a book entitled Arthashastru, in which he discussed corruption. Dante expressed the medieval antagonism towards corruption by placing bribers in the "deepest parts of Hell". The American Constitution names corruption as one of two definite crimes that can lead to the impeachment of the President. Since the beginning of the 1990s, the international interest in corruption has been unprecedented.

This article deals with corruption as it occurs in the public sector, focusing on the various definitions of corruption including general definitions of corruption, the moral definition of corruption, petty and grand corruption and the public office definition. The latter was the main definition of corruption used from the 1960s to the 1980s, and it is considered to be a legally derived approach to corruption.
Greed appears to be an overwhelming cause for corrupt behaviour. In South Africa, civil servants and public officials are considered well paid when compared with other developing countries. There is no need for committing corrupt acts. In some public professions such as the police service, lower ranks particularly are not well remunerated and this certainly contributes to corrupt behaviour. When comparing the causes of corruption between civil servants/officials and lower paid public servants, a greed versus need dichotomy arises. Other risk factors that contribute towards the aetiology of corruption such as the quality of the bureaucracy, excessive administrative secrecy and the politicisation of the public service will be discussed.
Negative practices such as patronage, nepotism, bribery, ghosting, bid-rigging, graft, kick-backs and conflicts of interest all contribute to the sizeable corruption problem South Africa appears to be experiencing at present. Examples of specific corrupt practices and at which tiers/departments of government they occur, are revealed. Some recommendations are made which, if implemented, would contribute towards finding a solution for this scourge.

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