February 26, 2015
1.6 billion people worldwide forced to pay bribes
A major study has looked at bribery levels across the world and reached a disappointing conclusion: a total of 1.6 billion people worldwide - nearly a quarter of the global population - are forced to pay bribes simply to gain access to everyday public services.The research, published in a new book by academics from the University of Strathclyde and the University of Birmingham in the UK, found that bribes are paid for healthcare and education, to obtain permits or after being stopped by police.
Scamming the globe
Professor Richard Rose of Strathclyde and Dr. Caryn Peiffer of Birmingham conducted surveys interviewing more than 250,000 people in 119 countries in Africa, Asia, the European Union, former Communist European nations, Latin America and the Anglo-American world. There were significant differences in bribery levels between continents, but also between different countries in the same continent.
Europe has very low rates of bribery, with only 4 percent on average making such payments. By contrast, the average is 22 percent in Latin America and 29 percent in the 30 African countries surveyed.
However, Professor Rose says that: "'Within every continent, there are major differences in the percentage of people annually paying bribes. In Africa, the range is between 63 percent in Sierra Leone and 4 percent in Botswana; in the European Union, which has the goal of upholding the rule of law, there were 29 percent paying a bribe in Lithuania and fewer than 1 percent reporting bribing a British public official."
Large percentages of countries’ populations will avoid the problem for long periods simply because they do not have regular contact with public services, however most people will have contact with public services at some stage in their life. Parents of school-age children are most likely to be in contact with education officials, while older people, especially widows, are most likely to need health care, and young men are most likely to have contact with the police.
Morals are hard to map
Europe’s low rates for individuals having to bribe officials for services should not necessarily be taken as a sign of moral superiority. Professor Rose explains that: “The European contribution to global corruption is in the bribes that multi-national corporations pay to political elites to obtain 'big bucks' contracts for such things as building dams or supplying military aircraft.”
In countries where individuals do have to bribe public officials, the study looked at the cause of the problem. Rose says that: "Some public officials like to blame their citizens for being ready and willing to pay bribes, as part of a so-called 'moral economy' of corruption, in which everybody sees services as corrupt and therefore takes payment of a bribe as a part of everyday life.”
"However,” he added, “survey data shows this is not the case. The great majority of people in every country think that bribery is wrong. They pay bribes because the alternative is doing without health care or a better education for their children."
He also pointed out that: “Our evidence shows that most public officials are not out to make money by taking bribes, but to provide services such as teaching small children to read or looking after people in hospital,” while the problem is caused by a minority of “bad apples.”
Six principles for reducing bribery are set out in the book’s conclusion, including computerized systems and rewarding the service ethic of public officials.