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Public Office Corruption – Baksheesh in Developing States


by James Murray

Introduction – A Discussion

What follows is a discussion document.  The collection of ideas are my own take on a major problem facing developing countries that is holding back their economies – that of bureaucratic corruption.
If you wish to scroll straight to my template of proposals below, please do so.

If you wish to feedback on this discussion I would ask that you email me on


There are a myriad reasons why the collection of proposals here may not work – it is easy to criticise.

However, I am interested only in sensible solutions to such problems that add to or modify these proposals and so increase the chances to make them work.


The collection of remedies are meant to be taken together, as taken piecemeal their effect will be weakened.

However, I do recognise that change on a nationwide scale, the change in how a society actually works, and so a change to its culture is always going to be slow process – if indeed it is at all possible…

I believe it is possible.

I do hope that this document will evoke consideration, comment, and add to the debate, but then be able to be worked up into a practical template that will offer an answer to the corruption we find that cripples so many developing countries.


This document is based on two premises:

  • That corruption of Public Officials is not an insoluble problem – an answer does exist.
  • That democratic accountability is an essential part of that answer. So, why is change necessary?
    Why is public office corruption so important?
    I give here my main list of reasons, but there are many more:

    1)    Everyone conspires in the crime
    Practically all developing countries have laws against bribery, and so theoretically the corruption of Public Officials should be controlled by that State’s criminal justice system.
    However, in the countries to which this discussion is aimed, there has developed a culture of bribery of public officials, and so, typically, laws made against it are for the most part ignored by the populace, and so of course by the bureaucracy.
    Most people have to use a public service at some time or other, and when they are faced having to make an illegal bribe to obtain that service, they become part of the crime – the same as the official demanding the bribe.

    Thus in those countries, most people become a ‘Briber’ or a ‘Bribee’ (the ‘Bribee Official’).

    2)   Such a ‘Criminalised’ populace are more likely to evade tax
    It is inevitable then that people will distrust public servants, and so the politicians who are supposedly controlling them, they will believe ‘they’ are all corrupt and shrug their shoulders.
    The effect of this is that they are likely to use this conviction as justification for themselves evading tax .
    After all, it is so easy to see one’s own tax evasion as ‘victimless’.
    Hence, there is a vicious circle, where, with other similar petty dishonesties, a deceit merry-go-round happens, which prolongs this undercurrent of dishonesty – where a tax-free, cash-in-hand, black economy develops and becomes ingrained.

    3)    Nepotism by public Officials
    In most third world countries the loyalty of family and friend is basic to the culture.
    Concomitant with that is an expectation that those with money or power should ‘help’ their friends and family members to secure advantages and, specifically, jobs.

    The effects of this nepotism inevitably results in the unconnected, better able being passed over and those less able being placed.
    It gets worse.  It is human nature that those who feel ‘protected’ are more likely nowhere near interested in doing a good job as those who know they have to earn merit to keep their position.
    And even worse, often ‘non-jobs’ are created for relatives where no real position exists – and so public funds end up carrying a burden of useless salary expenses.

    4)    Those with talent are attracted to a corrupt public service
    If it seen that the way to gain security, wealth, status and power is to enter a burgeoning public service, then that society will begin to diminish.
    So, young, talented people enter a corrupt bureaucracy which they see as the only real way to get on in life.
    Their talents are lost to the wealth-creating commercial world, and to the general community.

    I maintain that private enterprise and entrepreneurship should be the source of prosperity for individuals with the nation plugging into their wealth creating energy.

    There is certain decline when the security of working for the bureaucracy is seen as the ‘first prize’ in a culture, and where entering private ventures or setting one up becomes the  ‘risky second prize’.
    And this completes the malaise where safety and security replaces commercial vibrancy.
    When those you would normally expect to create wealth to keep the nation healthy and growing, are diverted into a bloated government bureaucracy, long term wealth creation is put into jeopardy, and, with that, the future of the country.


    Suggested Solution – a Collection of Initiatives

    This culture of ‘baksheesh’ can be a deeply ingrained and is so very difficult to change.
    The path outlined below is fraught with obstacles.  However, I believe the series of initiatives that follow go towards dealing with those obstacles.
    I list them here and then below amplify and explain each of them below:


  1. Change the criminal law to limit bribery as criminal only to ask for and to take a bribe but not to offer or pay a bribe
  2. Financially reward the Briber who reports the bribery act, whoever initiated it
  3. Take this reward amount from the salary of the Bribee Official
  4. Give the above immunity to the briber for a limited period onlyTHE ELECTION OF OFFICIALS
  5. Elect local senior government officials
  6. Initially give elected officials/politicians a shorter term of office; only increasing this term after each election
  7. Trust the democratic process 
  8. Use technology to ensure fair elections
  9. Produce an accurate Electoral List
  10. Consider paying people to voteENFORCEMENT
  11. Ensure a Free Press
  12. Allow Social Media
  13. Enforcement – Aid depends on the gradual taking up of these measure
  1. Change the criminal law to limit bribery as criminal only to ask for and to take a bribe but not to offer or pay a bribe
    This is the beginning of breaking up the ‘conspiracy’ between a Briber and the Bribee Official.You see, there is always such a conspiracy as in all the third world states there are laws against bribery.
    So, upon discovery of the illegal act, the Briber will get into as much trouble as the Bribee Official – sometimes even if the Briber subsequently informs on the Bribee Official.
    They are both seen as part of a criminal act.

    It makes no sense for Bribers to incriminate themselves by reporting the transaction, let alone risk that there will be recriminations and that nothing will happen to the Official…

    A possible answer has been mooted (the idea is not mine) that we should make it illegal to seek or take a bribe, but not to offer or pay a bribe.
    That way, the Briber can readily report a Bribee Official for asking for or for accepting it if even if the briber offers it.
    Under this system, there will then be no comebacks to the Briber – their act not being illegal under this change.

    I know it is strange to suggest immunity for the briber even if it was they who initiated the ‘deal’ with the corrupt Official – my reasons for supporting this agent provocateur act are as follows.

    First, let us examine what would result from allowing the above Briber immunity for his action.

    The main consequence would be that any Bribee Official could no longer be confident that their illegal act in asking for, or receiving a bribe, would not be reported – there being no consequences for the Briber.


  2. Reward the Briber who reports the bribery act
    Let us make it even more likely that the illegal transaction is reported, perhaps by arranging a ‘reward’ for reporting illegal bribery.
    Let us say, a reward of ten times the value of the amount of the bribe, with the conditions that they report the requested or accepted bribe, and the reporter gives evidence in the successful prosecution of the Bribee Official.To prove a bribe, an obvious method is that the Briber records the transaction – note that just about every mobile phone in existence allows recording.

    You can see that with this addition, it becomes not only a defensive move on the part of the Briber to report the corrupt Official, it also becomes profitable for the briber to report the deal.

    I proffer the figure of ten times the amount of the bribe as being sufficient to attract the Briber to report a corrupt official.
    However, this multiple is a matter of judgement – possibly determined by trial and error.
    It could end up that twice the bribe is sufficient, or a greater than ten times.

    But can society afford to pay such a reward to those reporting corruption?
    The next section addresses this.

  3. Take the reward amount from the salary of the Bribee Official
    Baksheesh is so engrained in some developing societies that it is said that a majority of public officials are involved.
    Wholesale sacking after a purge on dishonesty of such a large tranche of officialdom would be counter-productive to the efficient running of that society’s government, no matter how corrupt.The temporary answer is to make it so that, once the bribery of the Official is proved in a court, that Official can be allowed to stay in their position for a low number of proved transgressions.
    However, the condition for their keeping their office is that the reward figure, the multiple of the bribe taken, is deducted from their salary to be paid to the informant.
    It follows that, quite shortly, public servant bribery will be made so expensive for public officials, that it should not be worth the risk.
    Perhaps it is too much to hope that it can be eliminated straight away.
    However, I maintain that making it profitable for the person reporting that dishonest Official, and costly for that Official must have a wide effect.

    Allowing the Official to stay in their position merely recognises that changing a deeply ingrained way of life may take some time in the transition.
    However, I maintain that as acts of bribery begin to reduce and become the exception, the number of guilty officials will become low enough to be without damage to the government should they change to sacking future bribes.

  4. Give immunity for a limited period only
    But of course, most right-thinking people feel it is anathema to suggest that a Briber be so immune from prosecution.
    I answer this by suggesting that conditions be attached to this immunity.
    Let us say that such immunity and reward only applies if the briber ‘immediately’ reports the dishonest act of the Bribee Official, or within a set period of time of, say, seven days.
    After that period, failure to do so report the Bribee Official would mean that upon the ‘deal’ being discovered, both parties would be treated as part of the criminal act, basically a criminal conspiracy, if discovered.
    In such circumstances, a Briber would think hard and long during the immunity period, on whether to report the Bribee, where there would be no criminal consequences.Let us make it then very easy to report the act, let us say, by making available ready printed complaint forms to report such an act at the exit to all public buildings and/or on the Internet.

    For my part, I would be quite happy to allow the Briber to have complete immunity for a much longer period than seven days, as then the Bribee Official will have that much longer to worry about whether they were going to be accused of their corruption.

    In addition, as I believe that public official bribery will soon decrease, the legal immunity defence should be given a ‘sunset clause’ – this  legal defence is withdrawn after, say, ten years.

  5. Elect local senior Officials
    The most important restraint we have in the West against corruption is a long-standing, proper democracy, local and general, that works as well as it does.
    It is not perfect, but at least it brings those elected to power regularly to account and keeps them, with the assistance of a free press, mostly honest.In the USA, besides the electing local politicians, most high-ranking Public Officials also regularly face the electorate to remain in office.
    These include local sheriffs, district judges and district attorneys – all facing regular elections – the crucial actors in the criminal justice system.
    I believe that this helps them to stay honest.

    In developing counties, typically, when public officials reach office a high position, it becomes then a sinecure – once in, there is little opportunity to have them removed for incompetence, or even illegal behaviour however heinous.

    Compare this with USA, where local elected officials who wish to remain in office, have to maintain their reputation.
    In the developing state, a widely held reputation for dishonesty, or for allowing dishonesty amongst subordinates, or for nepotism, will be well known but accepted.
    I believe that when people see that they can actually vote those officials out of office they will use  that power.
    And of course an aggressive free press is an essential part of keeping honest those seeking election – see below.

    This local democracy also produces an viable Opposition always ready to replace those in charge.

    This dynamic tension results in the vast majority of politicians tending not to be corrupt, or at least not obviously so.

    Here, in the UK, we do not elect bureaucrats, only the politicians controlling them.
    This appears to work as we have a mature democracy, as most people accept that politicians are in control of their officials.

    I maintain that the election of public officials will indeed give local people the power to remove dishonest officials at election time.
    It relies upon the likelihood that, with a free press, local people are likely soon to be aware of corrupt local officials.

    Similarly, an elected official who allows their unelected subordinates to demand bribes, or is responsible for a department with a local reputation for this, would fear removal at election time, and be more likely to ensure it does not occur.

  6. Initially, give elected officials and politicians a short term of office; increasing this term after each successful election
    We must anticipate countries where proper democracy and honest officials and politicians are not the norm.
    It is pointless there to allow a politician or official to be elected for, say, four years and then expect the threat of losing office to be a deterrent if they feel their come-uppance is so far into the future.The obvious answer is to elect new senior officials and politicians initially for a shorter period.
    By ‘new’ I mean those who have not been in that office before and so need to show they are up to the job with honesty and reputation being part of that qualification.
    Perhaps this initially should be, say, for 12 months, – a sort of ‘probation’ period to check to see if they can be trusted.
    After that short period, the official would automatically come back before the electorate as a sort of by-election to be judged on how they have performed.

    After a successful re-election this time the next term of office of the new official is doubled automatically to, say, two years– twice the previous term – and subsequent elections of the now ‘tested’ official would allow that candidate to be elected for a full term of four years.

    Thus, senior law officers, district prosecutors and judges would be at the mercy of the electorate, not the establishment.
    Then, after they have proved themselves, all subsequent elections of that official would be for the normal full term

  7. Trust the democratic process
    All of the above will not work unless there is a proper democracy with most people enfranchised and also using their franchise.Often, there is an ersatz form of democracy overlaid onto a feudal system where local overlords or religious leaders have set themselves up as political representatives and demanding their followers to put and keep them in office.
    Typically, they are then either elected unopposed or easily win any election where they are the representatives of that area’s majority religion, sect or tribe.
    Such powerful figures usually have the power to bribe or strong-arm election officials to usurp the election process.

    So, how can the local populace gain faith in the democratic process in this type of society?

    The may not be used to how effective elections can be, either of elected officials or of politicians, and may take some time to realise the benefits of enforced honesty produced by democracy.
    But it will come.

    Next, ensuring everybody can vote and encouraging them to do so, thus creating representative, free and fair elections is encouraged by using incorruptible election technology.

  8. Technology to ensure fair elections
    As mentioned, in countries with no tradition or experience of real democracy, it is very easy for the local or national heavies to lean on election officers to ‘work’ the elections so that they or their candidates succeed.Unrepresentative elections arise where, although conducted legally:
  1. The franchise is not fully taken up i.e. most people are not on the electoral list as registered to vote
  2. Once on the list they do not use their vote

    And unfair elections arise when illegal acts are carried out such as:

  3. ‘Creating’ non-existent voters.
  4. Election software is hacked into and the results changed.
  5. The party in power ensure success by sequestering ballot boxes in crucial polling areas and:
  • take out opposition votes and/or
  • Insert their own voting slips in exchange and/or
  • Insert voting slips votes from people on the electoral list who did not vote because they have died/moved away or who have not bothered to vote.

These five reasons amount to the count not being representative of the real wishes of the local elections

There is now quite simple and inexpensive technology to ensure fair elections against the above illegal election practices.
I suggest using this technology, as follows:

  1. If some of the electorate are in remote villages with no mains power, ensure all election devices are able to be solar powered.
  2. Fingerprint scanners are now cheap enough to appear as apps on mobile phones.
  3. In the months before the planned election, use portable sealed fingerprint scanners, to take a thumb print from everyone who is eligible to vote in that election district.
    Thus produce a solid election list which therefore cannot contain non-existent or duplicate constituents.
  4. A digital copy of these fingerprints, coupled with the identity of the voter, is then sent to a central computer.
    So that the identity of the whole eligible electorate can be collated and used in present and future elections.
    Such transmission of the thumb or fingerprint information is able to be packaged and sent in a compressed format by wire, or by mobile phone data transfer
  5. At election time, at each polling station all those arriving to vote have their thumb print scanned again and compared against the master database, to prove their eligibility.
    In real time, this also records the fact that a particular constituent has used their vote at a polling station.
  6. During the polling period this data is then sent by mobile phone data transfer or by wire to the central repository.
    It is counted against the number and identity in the electoral list database, making the polling numbers immutable and easy to discover any differences between the number of people voting in a particular polling district and the number of voting slips in that district’s ballot boxes.
    A difference in the numbers results in the election ordered to be rerun for that area.
  7. When the elector completes their voting slip it also contains a carbon-less back sheet of their vote both with unique bar codes.
    However, each voter takes away to keep the back copy with its bar code.
    This bar code is separate to the thumb print ID and cannot be cross referenced to it by the authorities to discover who voted for whom.
    However, it does cross reference to a particular ballot slip in a ballot box.
    Thus, where there is a fear that there has been a ‘stuffing of ballot boxes with false voting slips, this becomes important.
    As stated, this is independent of the thumb ID which only ensures the number voting is consistent.
    Where voters suspect election fraud and complain, they can volunteer to their own copy slips to have the top copy slip found and ensure it has not somehow been altered.It is relatively easy to track a bar coded voting slip in the thousands of slips in a pile by using a scanning machine that can zip through tens of thousands of slips in minutes.
    Thus where there are sufficient objections and a representative sample of copy voting slips are checked for genuineness against the top copy slips and a sizable disparity is revealed, the election is rerun in that votong district.
  8. Source codes for all the above election software must be open to ensure there is no method of hackers ‘miscounting’ votes.

This technology above is already with us and is inexpensive.
In the interests of international democracy I would suggest that such technology is provided by an international election monitoring body who can offer to oversees elections which may be vulnerable to rigging.
It can offer the fingerprint scanners, the open software and the carbonless bar-coded voting slips.

9.    Produce an Accurate Electoral List
I would have thought that producing an accurate electoral list would be one of the first actions of any invading army which is determined to set up democracy.  Recent examples are Iraq and Afghanistan

The taking of thumb prints to be checked against the name and address keeps the electoral list honest – so no more “vote early, vote often” –  as alleged to have been the cry in past Irish elections.

In addition, this thumb-print ID can be put onto ID cards as a crude form of identification to ensure the supply of aid is to individuals who are so thumb print registered.
Thus a by-product of this is that aid packages can be guaranteed to be given fairly to all individuals, with no more diverting of supplies – each package can be similarly bar-coded as they are given out and matched to a person…

10.   Pay People to Vote!

As well as going as far as possible towards a fully franchised populace, there are many reasons to persuade the electorate actually to use their vote.

For many third world countries, especially those coming out of dictatorships, there is a resistance to voting.

This may be based upon the perceived uselessness of elections as ‘things never change’ or those offering themselves for election are always corrupt etc.
This resistance may be based on real experience in the past.However, I do not believe that real change can happen unless democratic accountability is used to rein in the power of those in charge.
As a Libertarian, I resist the Australian option of making it an offence not to vote without a good reason.

Therefore, I propose that there is created a financial incentive for people to vote.
This could take the form of a small proportion of the national wage, perhaps the equivalent £10 in the UK.

Again, like as the sponsoring western country which supplied or paid for and organised the above mentioned polling station devices and software, the same country would pay the total amount to the populace and again upon producing their thumb print to first show they used their vote, and second to ensure that there is no ‘slippage’ with these “payment to vote” moneys.

To save bureaucracy, if there is a benefits system in the country, then the payment figure can be added into the next welfare payment.
With a sophisticated enough taxation system, the voting payment can be incorporated into tax allowances.

11.   Ensure a Free press
A free exchange of ideas and information is a prerequisite for democracy.
A free press acts as a check on the power of petty bureaucrats.

12.   Allow Social Media
Social media is now spread mostly by mobile phones and this is having the wonderful effect of keeping things honest. The Establishment do not appear to like this in the sorts of countries we are talking about, but it now appears unstoppable.

13.   Enforcement – making aid depend on the gradual taking up of these measures

In the absence of a wide number of Internet connected people in a developing country’s population it is even more important to have a free press as an ultimate goal.
Regretfully, just making this a condition of receiving Foreign Aid is a condition too far for many despots.

Thus, I suggest we look to push change in the form of a series of smaller concessions by a corrupt government that gradually reach towards this target. As well as the cost of the third world country taking up the above measures, the pressure to do so must also come from outside.

In Sub-Saharan Africa there can be a violent suspicion against what may be seen as Neo-Colonial interference in the internal affairs of a country.
However, it may be that we would have to consider attaching the granting of Aid to the gradual take up these remedies in order to cure the patient instead of treating the symptoms.

The consequences of all the above?

The consequences of these sorts of measures are that Officials may not go into poorly paid public service if they cannot supplement their income with a steady line of bribes.
Therefore, there may be the extra cost to the country of raising the salaries of central and local government officers.

However, I believe the most significant result of removing the dead hand of corruption will be a surge of confidence, growth and wealth in the country.


Jim Murray

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