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Corruption in the South African construction industry: a thematic analysis of verbatim comments from survey participants


  • Paul Anthony Bowen
  • Peter J. Edwards
  • Keith Cattell


Corruption is a pervasive stain on the construction industry in many countries. South Africa is no exception. A questionnaire survey showed that corruption there is perceived to be widespread. Beyond the quantitative survey findings, thematic analysis was used to explore the verbatim comments offered by many survey participants. This analysis clarified the nature and extent of corruption more precisely and four predominant themes emerged: involvement in corruption, forms of corruption, factors that may give rise to corrupt activities, and the means of combating corruption. Public officials are thought to be actively involved in acts of corruption, particularly in the soliciting of bribes and in tender manipulation. Professional consultants and other actors in the construction supply chain are not above reproach. Forms of corruption centre largely on appointment and tender irregularities, and to a lesser extent on contract administration and closeout irregularities. Factors instrumental in corruption include the skills shortage within the industry, a perceived absence of deterrents and sanctions, and poor ethical standards. Procedural impediments, fear of victimization and personal attitudes all act as barriers to combating corruption. While confirming opportunity, pressure and self-justification as the three pillars of the Cressey ‘Fraud Triangle’ theory of corruption, the research findings suggest that a more dynamic interpretation of this model is advisable. In addressing corruption, at least in the public sector, improvements in procurement processes are needed along with shifts towards higher standards of ethical behaviour among public sector employees at all levels. Greater procurement process transparency (in both public and private sectors of the industry) would address the worst effects of undue political interference and nepotism. The South African construction industry (particularly its statutory professional councils and contractor affiliation bodies), together with public sector agencies and private sector client associations, should collaborate to adopt a more proactive stance against corruption, and be more engaged with detecting and reporting it.

Suggested Citation

  • Paul Anthony Bowen & Peter J. Edwards & Keith Cattell, 2012. "Corruption in the South African construction industry: a thematic analysis of verbatim comments from survey participants," Construction Management and Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 30(10), pages 885-901, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:conmgt:v:30:y:2012:i:10:p:885-901
    DOI: 10.1080/01446193.2012.711909

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