Drivers of corruption in service delivery

There are a number of characteristics of service delivery mechanisms that render this area particularly vulnerable to corruption and some identifiable factors that increase integrity risks.  

Service delivery is typically characterised by large-scale investments and considerable financial commitments, which can attract corrupt groups and foster rent-seeking behaviours. At the same time, while service delivery is at the centre of national budgets, the value and composition of individual projects may vary dramatically, with specific corruption challenges associated with various types of projects. At the procurement stage of service delivery, for example, companies and politicians may be tempted to offer or extort bribes to secure multimillion dollar contracts, often using beneficial ownership schemes to hide the proceeds of corruption. While not as lucrative as such deals, employees working at the point of service delivery can supplement their income by extorting bribes from service users for providing services that are supposed to be free of charge. This practice is especially prevalent in contexts where public servants’ salaries are low and below the local living standards or where control and oversight mechanisms are weak.[1]

Moreover, service delivery processes and structures are often complex with overlapping responsibilities and jurisdictions. In many cases, services are delivered by a complex mix of private and public entities and pass through various levels of government with weak oversight and accountability mechanisms. In many developing countries, for instance, service delivery contracts between governments and private companies might not include appropriate quality control mechanisms to avoid increasing the cost of service provision. In some cases, companies or public institutions involved in service delivery might not have adequate regulations, ethics policies and procedures, compliance mechanisms, or integrity management systems in place to effectively prevent, detect and sanction corruption. Ethical rules and codes of conduct for employees may be unclear or non-existent, ethical or technical training might not be available to staff involved in procurement or in service delivery processes.  

In addition, resources are often thinly spread. Governments may be under pressure to reduce overhead costs, which can lead to them prioritising tangible goods and services while cutting back on accountability and control mechanisms. When governments or companies charged with delivering a service view service delivery as a zero-sum game, there can be structural incentives to cut corners by providing inferior services or charging higher prices for nominally free or low cost services.  

Overall, the combination of composite structures and bureaucracies as well as a competition for resources make service delivery monitoring processes and accountability mechanisms challenging and costly to create and implement. This lack of adequate oversight can lead to high levels of discretionary power, which can produce arbitrary outcomes as well as significantly raising risks of corruption in the supply chain. Where this is the case, corruption in service delivery can become a low-risk, high-profit activity.  



Iñaki Albisu Ardigó; Marie Chêne


Matthew Jenkins

Contributing experts:

Umrbek Allakulov (Water Integrity Network)

Shaazka Beyerle (US Institute of Peace)

Simone Bloem (Center for Applied Policy)

Claire Grandadam (Water Integrity Network)

Jacques Hallak (Jules Verne University – Amiens)

Mihaylo Milovanovitch (Centre For Applied Policy)

Muriel Poisson (International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP-UNESCO)

Juanita Riano (Inter-American Development Bank)

Marc Y. Tassé (Canadian Centre of Excellence for Anti-Corruption)

Vítězslav Titl (University of Siegen)

Davide Torsello (Central European University Business School)

Patty Zakaria (Royal Roads University)



Close search

Responsive versions of the site in progress.