Corruption and Reform in India: Public Services in the Digital Age (2012, Cambridge University Press)

Abstract: Why are some governments better able to reform public services than others? Through investigation of a new era of administrative reform, in which digital technologies may be used to facilitate citizens’ access to the state, this analysis provides unanticipated insights into this fundamental question. In contrast to factors such as economic development or electoral competition, I highlight the importance of access to rents, which can dramatically shape the opportunities and threats of reform to political elites. Drawing on sub-national analysis of twenty Indian states, a field experiment, statistical modeling, interviews of citizens, bureaucrats, and politicians, and comparative data from South Africa and Brazil, I show that the extent to which politicians rely on income from petty and grand corruption is closely linked to variation in the timing, management, and comprehensiveness of technology-enabled reforms. The book also illuminates the importance of political constituencies and coalition politics in shaping policy outcomes.

To read Chapter 1 using Google Books preview, please click here. For data and other supplementary material, please click here. See also reviews from Economic and Political Weekly and The Book Review.

Awarded Special Recognition by the Charles H. Levine Memorial Book Prize Committee of the International Political Science Association and Governance Journal: “This book masterfully draws on both qualitative and quantitative methods to explore the implementation of state-level, IT-based service centers in India. The book convincingly shows how the nature of corruption in each Indian state interacts with political patterns to produce particular policy outcomes. A must-read for students of corruption, Bussell’s work deserves an honorable mention as well as the admiration of the jury.” See also: GSPP Announcement

Peer-Reviewed Articles and Chapters

Typologies of Corruption: A Pragmatic Approach, 2015, in Susan Rose Ackerman and Paul Lagunes, Eds., Greed, Corruption, and the Modern State: Essays in Political Economy. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.

The goals of this chapter are threefold: first, to highlight issues of conceptualization and measurement in the existing literature on cor- ruption that limit our ability to cumulate knowledge about corruption’s causes, effects, and the potential for reform. Second, to argue for a more explicit but pragmatic approach to typologies of corruption that should improve our ability to cumulate knowledge while not limiting the analytic endeavor. And, third, to present a new typology of corruption that is intended to facilitate analyses specifically aimed at identifying those indi- viduals with a vested interest in existing forms of corruption.

eGovernment and Corruption in the States: Can technology serve the aam aadmi? 2012 in Economic and Political Weekly XLVII(25): 77-85.

The Indian central government has promoted efforts to improve the quality of public service delivery using information and communication technologies. However, state-level experiences with eGovernment since the late 1990s display significant variations in the ability of governments to successfully adopt new technologies to provide benefits to citizens. I evaluate state efforts to implement one-stop, computerized citizen service centers and show that policy outcomes are not correlated with measures of established explanations for reform, such as economic development. Instead, I argue that variations in policies result from the extent to which incumbent politicians expect reforms to affect the economic resources underlying their current and future electoral status—in particular, the availability of corrupt income from the process of service delivery. I show that levels of petty corruption are highly correlated with the characteristics of reform and these outcomes are magnified in coalition-led states, where politicians anticipate economic benefits from their participation in government. Analysis of four states, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Uttar Pradesh, illustrates these dynamics and highlights the ways in which politicians simultaneously use service reforms to target benefits to their preferred constituents.

Explaining Cross-National Variation in Government Technology Adoption, 2011 in International Studies Quarterly 55(1): 267-280

New information and communication technologies provide governments with opportunities to deliver public services more effectively to their citizens. But we know little about the reasons for variation in the adoption of these technologies across countries. Using cross-national data on government use of information technologies to reform public service delivery, or eGovernment, I argue that politicians’ expectations about the effects of more transparent service delivery on established patterns of rent seeking play an important role in shaping variation in the character of reforms. I show that the level of pre-existing corruption in a country is a robust predictor of eGovernment outcomes, with more corrupt governments less likely than their less corrupt peers to implement high quality public service reforms using information technology. This finding contrasts with those analyses that emphasize the role of economic conditions or regime type in explaining technological diffusion.

For data and other supplementary material, please click here.

Why Get Technical? Corruption and the Politics of Public Service Reform in the Indian States, 2010 in Comparative Political Studies 43(10): 1230-1257

The emergence of new information and communication technologies in the 1990s offered governments opportunities to deliver public services more effectively to their citizens.  Yet national and sub-national authorities have employed such technologies in highly uneven ways. Drawing on a new dataset of technology policy adoption by Indian states, I argue that political calculations drive variation in the timing and scope of technology policies. Politicians weigh the expected electoral benefits from providing new goods to citizens against the expected electoral costs of reduced access to corrupt funds due to increased transparency. I show that the level of bureaucratic corruption in a state is the best predictor of both when states implement policies promoting computer-enabled services and the number of services made available. This finding contrasts with arguments that posit economic or developmental conditions, or alternative electoral and institutional characteristics, as the major drivers of technology investment.

Will Information Technology Reshape the North-South Asymmetry of Power in the Global Political Economy?  in Studies in Comparative International Development, Vol. 40, No. 2, 2005 (co-authored with Steven Weber)

Will the Digital Revolution Revolutionize Development? Drawing Together the Debate, in Studies in Comparative International Development, Vol. 40, No. 2, 2005 (co-authored with Taylor Boas and Thad Dunning)

Additional Publications 

Institutional Capacity for Natural Disasters: Methodology for Case Studies in Africa, 2013, Climate Change and African Political Stability program Research Brief #9 (co-authored with Adam Colligan)

Institutional Capacity for Natural Disasters: Findings from Case Studies in Africa, 2013, Climate Change and African Political Stability program Research Brief #10

Corruption, Technology, and Reform: A Mixed View from the States, India in Transition Series, Center for the Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania, May 7, 2012. Hindi version available here. Also published as Petty corruption thrives, and how, in The Hindu Business Line, May 9, 2012.

“Cyberspace,” “Import Substitution Industrialization,” “Technology,” “Technology Transfer,” and “Virtual Community,” 2007. In Encyclopedia of Governance, Ed. Mark Bevir. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications

Between State and Citizen: Decentralization, Institutions, and Accountability, a review of Going Local: Decentralization, democratization, and the promise of good governance by Merilee S. Grindle and Controlling Governments: Voters, Institutions, and Accountability edited by José María Maravall and Ignacio Sánchez-Cuenca. 2010. India Review. Vol. 9, No. 2

Review of The Information Revolution and Developing Countries by Ernest Wilson. 2006. The Information Society, Vol. 22, No.1

Working Papers

Varieties of Corruption: The Organization of Rent-Seeking in India

How is corruption organized? Studies of corrupt behavior to date shed light on both the causes and consequences of corruption. Yet we have little understanding of how corrupt activities are structured and the ways in which rents are, or are not, distributed across various actors—insights that would, in theory, prove enlightening for efforts to reduce corruption. In this paper, I analyze the organization of corruption through a set of related questions: Are rents from a single bribe distributed across multiple actors? If so, do different types of actors benefit differentially from corrupt acts? In contrast to previous theoretical work, I posit that the type of corruption and, as a result, the level of government at which corruption occurs, are better predictors of variation in the distribution of rents than the degree of government centralization, In order to test this hypothesis, I first present a new, three-level typology of corruption emphasizing the substance of the benefit for which a bribe is paid. This typology roughly reflects the character of illicit acts across three realms: high-level policy-making, e.g. bribes for favorable legislation; mid-level policy implementation, such as kickbacks for government contracts; and low-level delivery of public services, for example the payment of “speed money” by citizens. I then draw on new and original data from surveys of Indian politicians and bureaucrats to assess how the distribution of rents across actors varies as a function of the type of corruption, an individual’s position and role in government, and the degree of government centralization. I show that there is considerable division of rents across government and non-government actors and the perceived distribution of rents is strongly associated with the type of corruption, in line with the hypotheses presented here, though not necessarily in the ways predicted by existing theory. In addition, I find minimal evidence of a relationship between partisan control and the distribution of rents. These results validate the utility of a more disaggregated typology of corruption and provide the first clear evidence of the extent to which different political actors benefit from diverse corrupt acts.

Representation Between the Votes: Informal Citizen-State Relations in India

While elections play an important and well-documented role in representation of voters in India, the world’s largest democracy, the nature of citizen-state relations between opportunities to vote is arguably even more relevant to individuals’ overall interests, but is substantially less well understood. How do citizens access the state on a daily basis, and what are the implications of these interactions for the quality of public life? To whom do citizens look for assistance and do these strategies differ across public goods and services? Do politicians represent the interests of their constituents in accessing the resources of the state? Drawing on new and unique survey data of both citizens and politicians in India, I evaluate the ways in which individuals make choices over a range of potential strategies for availing themselves of state resources. Through analysis of individuals’ perceptions of how others may appeal for assistance, I use evidence from survey experiments to shed new light on differences in the strategies used for various types of goods and services and the relevance of both the type of service and the type of individual or group from whom assistance is requested. I find that, in particular, the most likely source of assistance is a local elected politician. More generally, bureaucrats are seen as likely sources of assistance, with politicians, as a group, following closely behind. In contrast to recent work on public services in India, my results show that non-state intermediaries, such as middlemen and local fixers, or naya neta, are perceived to be relatively unlikely sources for assistance, even by citizen, rather than politician, respondents. In addition, I find that that the type of service is an important predictor of anticipated citizen strategies, with respondents expecting citizens to be more likely to request assistance for high-spillover public goods, such as a local health center, rather than low-spillover public services or particularistic goods. This analysis offers a new perspective on “claim making,” or “particularized and general referent contacting,” providing evidence for both the importance of politicians and other state officials in the representation of citizen interests as well as differences in the nature of public provided goods for shaping citizen choices on how to access the state.

Constituency Service, Decentralization, and Citizen Behavior in India

Constituency service is an important element of Indian legislator activity. Early interest in the importance of the personal vote in India paid particular attention to the relevance of Indian electoral institutions for promoting the supply of constituency service to Indian citizens. Yet analysts have paid little attention to the potential effects of other institutional characteristics, such as the major decentralization reforms of the 1990s, on the nature of politician-citizen interactions. In this paper I use survey evidence from citizens in the south Indian state of Karnataka to show that, despite nearly two decades of formal political and fiscal decentralization in the state, in the majority of cases citizens continue to rely on the assistance of state-level politicians to navigate the state bureaucracy rather than their local counterparts. In addition I find that party affiliation, rather than demographic characteristics such as gender or caste, plays a predominant role in shaping both whom citizens have asked for help in the past and who they expect they would ask for help in the future. These findings contrast with the literature on decentralization that emphasizes the importance of decentralization for increasing the representation of minority groups and highlights the important role of party politics in linking constituents to their representatives and the resources controlled by those representatives.

eGovernment, Corruption, and the Quality of Public Services: Evidence from India (under review)

Do public service reforms improve citizen services? Over the last two decades both public-private partnerships and information and communication technologies have been promoted as tools for reforming service delivery in developing countries. However, observational studies of policies intended to promote these reform models are hindered by selection bias. Experimental evaluations, on the  other hand, can be limited in their potential for generalization to broader populations. In this study, I adopt a combined experimental and observational approach to evaluate the independent effects of privatization and computerization in an initiative to improve citizen services in the south Indian state of Karnataka. Through the use of a citizen survey and field experiment, I show that privatization of service delivery, combined with computerization, has a larger positive effect than computerization alone on a number of service quality measures, including the demand for, and size of, bribes from citizens. While private, computerized centers do not improve all facets of service delivery and, interestingly, do not engender higher levels of satisfaction from citizens, their effect on corruption in the service delivery process is substantial.