Introduction

Basic services broadly refer to services provided by governments (local, municipal or national) to their citizens. As such, the term encompasses the provision of a wide range of services such as healthcare, education, and water and sanitation that governments or entrusted private entities undertake for the benefit of citizens.  

Corruption in the delivery of basic services is the form of corruption most frequently encountered by citizens, and can plague all kinds of interactions with the state. According to Transparency International’s 2013 Global Corruption Barometer, 27 per cent of respondents worldwide claimed they had experienced corruption while dealing with a public service provider.  

Corruption in service delivery (such as clientelism, patronage, bribery) undermines the human right of equal access to public services, and exacerbates fundamental inequalities, affecting the most marginalised and underrepresented segments of the population most as wealthier, more powerful groups of society are less reliant on state assistance. As such, corruption undermines the “redistributionary” nature of public services, distorts policy decisions away from the public interest and diverts available public resources into the hands of corrupt groups.  

Rampant corruption can even lead to breakdowns in the service delivery chain, rendering the state apparatus incapable of meeting its obligations to safeguard its citizens, with catastrophic consequences such as famine and lack of basic medical supplies. Inability or unwillingness to curb corruption can therefore be seen as a failure by states to adequately provide for human rights – civil, political, economic, social and cultural, as well as the right to development – by depriving citizens of access to public services.  

By undermining the quality and quantity of public services, this type of corruption can fatally erode citizens’ confidence in public institutions and ultimately undermine political stability, as reflected by studies that have found a correlation between civil unrest and low-quality service supply.

For further information, see the Topic Guide on Corruption in Service Delivery, or the sectoral topic guides below.

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