Corruption has been much on my mind lately, not least because of the (fairly) recent publication of the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2015. I’ve been talking about corruption in training sessions, and musing on the accelerating levels of corruption in Australia and Spain. One country that always scores highly in the CPI is Singapore, and I had always assumed that this is due in part to the fact that they pay their politicians a good salary, thereby – received wisdom has it – removing their need to become corrupt in order to feather their nests.
But at the end of January the Economist published an article about a research project involving “a natural experiment in West Africa” that throws all of this into doubt. It’s hard to be more succinct than the Economist, but in essence (spoiler alert!) the researchers found that increasing – in some cases, doubling – the salaries of public officials in Ghana did not reduce levels of corruption but actually increased them. The researchers are somewhat at a loss to explain why this should be so; ordinarily, the better paid you are, the less need you have to be corrupt and (corrupt senior PEPs aside, it would seem) the less willing you are to risk your position. They speculate that the corrupt officials might have been egged on by greedy relatives, or might have interpreted their higher salaries as proof of their greater worth, giving them carte blanche to extort more. I am no psychologist – far from it – but I have met many people for whom the concept of “enough” does not exist: no matter how wealthy they are, it will never suffice. And if you have someone like that who is willing to step over to the dark side, thus removing any moral or legal constraints on their acquisitiveness, then you have trouble.
A note for regular readers: I am taking next week off work to celebrate a landmark birthday (yes, twenty-one again). So my next blog post will be on Tuesday 23 February – see you then.