Corruption and control: a corruption reduction approach

Publication Date05 Oct 2012
AuthorAdam Graycar,Aiden Sidebottom
subjectMatterAccounting & finance
Corruption and control:
a corruption reduction approach
Adam Graycar
Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University,
Canberra, Australia, and
Aiden Sidebottom
Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science,
University College London, London, UK
Purpose – Corruption is a significant financial crime which is estimated by the World Economic
Forum to cost about 5 per cent of global GDP or $2.6 trillion dollars. Explanations of corruption, like
explanations of crime, tend to focus on the individuals who commit corruption and the wider
conditions which give rise to corrupt behaviour. Approaches designed to reduce corruption usually
propose stiffer sanctions, institutional reforms and the passing of new laws. The purpose of this paper
is to outline a complementary perspective with which to consider corruption.
Design/methodology/approach Grounded in situational crime prevention and related
criminological theory, the paper argues that opportunities in the immediate environment play a
causal role in generating corruption. It proposes that corruption can be minimised by removing or
reducing opportunities which are conducive to corrupt behaviour. In total, five cases are chosen as
illustrative examples of how situational crime prevention might usefully be applied to corruption,
focussing on the Type, Activities, Sectors and Places (TASP) that comprise corruption events.
Findings – A framework is developed for the empirical study of corruption in local settings.
Originality/value – The paper explores how situational crime prevention can usefully inform the
analysis and prevention of corruption.
Keywords Corruption, Financial crime, Crime prevention, Opportunity,Routine activity approach,
Situational crimeprevention
Paper type Research paper
Corruption undermines good governance and the rule of law, it negatively impacts
service quality and efficiency, and poses threats to principles of democracy, justice and
the economy. The harms associated with corruption are well documented in the research
literature and will be familiar to many (for broad overviews see Rose-Ackerman (1997)
and Treisman (2000)). It is also a significant financial crime estimated by the World
Economic Forum (2009) to cost about $2.6 trillion per year, about 5 percent of global
GDP, with about $1 trillion is paid annually in bribes.
One could spend many pages exploring definitions of corruption and dissecting their
characteristics. The lack of consensus has made very tricky any reliable estimate s
of the prevalence of corruption (Gorta, 2006). To avoid this we use the Transparency
International definition, “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. Furthermore, in
this brief paper we confine our analysis to the corruption of officials working in public
institutions and, while likely applicable more widely, leave for others the analysis of
corruption in the private sector.
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Journal of Financial Crime
Vol. 19 No. 4, 2012
pp. 384-399
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/13590791211266377
Controlling corruption is a challenging task. The evidence base for interventions
which have been effective and sustainable in reducing different types of corruption
across different settings is limited (see a discussion by Svensson (2005)). Many
routinely employed anti-corruption measures are grounded in a criminal justice model
which assume that increasing the penalties associated with getting caught will act as a
sufficient mechanism to deter individuals from acting corruptly. Typical examples
include the introduction of stiffer sanctions, the establishment of new, firmer laws and
initiating institutional reforms. Such measures tend to speak to the proposed “distant”
causes of corruption, and concentrate on the wider conditions which give rise to
corrupt behaviour.
The aim of this paper is to explore how situational crime prevention (SCP)
(Clarke, 1995, 2008) can usefully inform the analysis and prevention of corruption.
Consensus has converged on how opportunities in the immediate environment are
causal influences of crime events, and how focusing on crime opportunities as the unit of
analysis (as opposed to say, offender motivation) can yield important analytical and
preventive benefits. Applying the same focus for corruption has received less attention.
We believe it deserves more. Our intention here is not to supplant but to supplement
other anti-corruption strategies and to highlight how situational approaches are
presently underexploited. It is hoped that our suggestions will serve two purposes. First,
to broaden and usefully contribute to the debate on the causal conditions for corruption,
thereby providing a fuller picture of intervention opportunities, and second, to mo tivate
others to draw on the ideas and framework outlined here (as well as SCP more generally)
to produce more detailed, fully worked examples of specific corruption problems.
The paper is structured as follows. We begin with a brief review of the putative
drivers of corruption and by emphasizing that corruption events can usefully be
categorized across four dimensions: type, activities, sectors and places (TASP). As will
become clear as the paper proceeds, this model provides a useful starting point for a
situational analysis. Second, we define what is meant by SCP and related opportunity
theories. The third section makes a case that focussing on the causal role of
opportunities can advance the analysis and control of corruption. Fourth, we describe
our small convenience sample of public sector corruption cases. Fifth, we present the
results in terms of relevant opportunity factors that might be amenable to situational
interventions. Finally, we discuss the implications of our findings for situatio nal
corruption prevention and develop a preliminary framework for the empirical study of
corruption in local settings.
Corruption and control: the what, where and why
The abuse of entrusted power for private gain covers a host of activities. Table I
outlines components of what are commonly accepted as corrupt behaviours. Giving
them a context we lay a base for situational analysis. The essence of SCP is to focus on
the crime event, as opposed to criminality, and as much as is possible break it into
progressively smaller conceptual and operational units. Table I identifies corr upt
behaviours across four dimensions: TASP, thus allowing us to better situate a
corruption event for the purposes of analysis (for example, bribery, in procurement, in
the energy sector, in a locality).
Turning to the causes of corruption, Thomas and Meagher (2004) split the dominant
theories into two broad categories. The first concentrates on “structural” or “societal”
and control

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