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To serve the community or oneself: the public servant's dilemma

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  • Abigail Barr
  • Magnus Lindelow
  • Pieter Serneels

Abstract

Embezzlement of resources is hampering public service delivery throughout the developing world. Research on this issue is hindered by problems of measurement. To overcome these problems we use an economic experiment to investigate the determinants of corrupt behaviour. We focus on three aspects of behaviour: (i) embezzlement by public servants; (ii) monitoring effort by designated monitors; and, (iii) voting by community members when provided with an opportunity to select a monitor. The experiment allows us to study the effect of wages, effort observability, rules for monitor assignment, and professional norms. Our experimental subjects are Ethiopian nursing students. We find that service providers who earn more embezzle less, although the effect is small. Embezzlement is also lower when observability (associated with the risk of being caught and sanctioned) is high, and when service providers face an elected rather than randomly selected monitor. Monitors put more effort into monitoring, when they face re-election and when the public servant receives a higher wage. Communities re-elect monitors who put more effort into exposing embezzlement. Framing . whereby players are referred to as .health workers. and .community members. rather than by abstract labels . affects neither mean embezzlement nor mean monitoring effort, but significantly increases the variance in both. This suggests that different types of experimental subject respond differently to the framing, possibly because they adhere to different norms.

Suggested Citation

  • Abigail Barr & Magnus Lindelow & Pieter Serneels, 2003. "To serve the community or oneself: the public servant's dilemma," CSAE Working Paper Series 2003-11, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
  • Handle: RePEc:csa:wpaper:2003-11
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    1. repec:eee:jeborg:v:147:y:2018:i:c:p:58-75 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Klaus Abbink & Matthew Ellman, 2004. "The donor problem," Economics Working Papers 796, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Jan 2005.
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    6. Vivi Alatas & Lisa Cameron & Ananish Chaudhuri & Nisvan Erkal & Lata Gangadharan, 2009. "Subject pool effects in a corruption experiment: A comparison of Indonesian public servants and Indonesian students," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 12(1), pages 113-132, March.
    7. Juan Camilo Cárdenas & Rajiv Sethi, 2007. "Attitudes and attributes: a field experiment with public officials and transfer recipients In Colombia," DOCUMENTOS CEDE 006881, UNIVERSIDAD DE LOS ANDES-CEDE.
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    15. Abigail Barr & Magnus Lindelow, 2005. "Intrinsic motivations on the development frontline: Do they exist? Do they endure?," Economics Series Working Papers GPRG-WPS-033, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.

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    JEL classification:

    • O - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth
    • P - Economic Systems

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