Ghost on the highway: on the salary-corruption nexus in Ghana

I just came across an interesting paper that provides evidence against my prior belief that increasing civil service salaries would lower corruption.


by Foltz and Opoku-Agyemang (heres a link).

Here’s the abstract:

In one of the most ambitious public sector reform experiments in Africa, the Ghana government doubled its police officer salaries in 2010 in part to mitigate petty corruption on its roads. Neighboring countries in the West African region left their police salaries unchanged. Using unique data on bribes paid from over 2,100 truck trips in West Africa and representing over 45,000 bribe opportunities, we evaluate the reform impacts on petty corruption using a difference-in-difference method that exploits the exogenous policy experiment. By following bribes paid by the same trucks in different countries as well as to different civil servants in Ghanaian bribe taking we can identify whether salaries affect both the number of bribes and the amount given by truckers. Rather than decrease petty corruption, the salary policy significantly increased the value of bribes and the amounts given by truck drivers to policemen in total. Robustness checks show the higher bribe amount is robust to alternative specifications. Moreover, we do not find that Ghana policemen collected significantly fewer bribes than other officials in the same country.

So I guess when your pay is higher, the same old bribe you used to be happy with now seems like a miserable pittance and you adjust your “requests” appropriately upward.

5 thoughts on “Ghost on the highway: on the salary-corruption nexus in Ghana

  1. Doesn’t this make the jobs a form of patronage? I would expect more corruption if the wage level becomes unconnected to the local opportunity set. Like the higher paid 3rd world teachers sleeping through school or not showing up, relative to informal schools.

  2. I scanned part of the paper but I see a few questions:

    * Could the increased salary leave the police thinking prices / costs have gone up, thus they should ask for larger bribes?

    * What are the relative police salaries between the countries (was Ghana below average before hand).

    * What are police salaries relative to cost of living? If the doubled salary still left the police at poverty level I can see a different result than if doubling the salary put them squarely in the upper middle class (or local equivalent).

    Still an interesting result which calls into question conventional views on petty corruption.

  3. I think when Mexico did this, they didn’t just raise salaries. There were new uniforms, border guards caught accepting bribes were disciplined at least a few times, hiring standards were professionalized so education mattered and not just connections, the workforce was nationalized instead of being local hires, and the red-green light system for selecting searchees was instituted.

    And I never heard of anyone paying a bribe to a customs official ever again, even now twenty-five years later. Of course, Mexico transitioned from a third to a first world country in that period so maybe border corruption was a side effect rather than a driver of change, but I think it was a driver.

    If Ghana just raised salaries without other measures, that was naïve. Good government requires leadership, not just twisting a knob on the public finance spreadsheet.

  4. @behiker57w: I hope you weren’t being serious when you said “Of course, Mexico transitioned from a third to a first world country in that period so maybe border corruption was a side effect rather than a driver of change, but I think it was a driver,” because Mexico is still, by and large, a third-world country where police officers are tremendously corrupt despite new uniforms, new hiring standards, a nationalized workforce, etc. Sure, it’s not as bad as Ghana (in numbers – I lived and worked in Mexico for a long time, but I’ve never been to Ghana), but that’s not much comfort to the people who depend on Mexico’s “tránsitos,” “federales,” the newly instituted “gendarmería,” etc.

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