Setting a Good Example? The Effect of Leader and Peer Behavior on Corruption among Indonesian Senior Civil Servants

Date01 July 2019
Published date01 July 2019
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 79, Iss. 4, pp. 565–579. © 2019 by The
American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.13059.
Setting a Good Example? The Effect of Leader and Peer Behavior on Corruption among Indonesian Senior Civil Servants
Abstract: Standard anticorruption interventions consist of intensified monitoring and sanctioning. Rooted in
principal-agent theory, these interventions are based on the assumption that corrupt acts follow a rational cost-benefit
calculation by gain-seeking individuals. Given their mixed results, however, these interventions require closer scrutiny.
Building on goal-framing theory, the authors argue that rule compliance requires a salient normative goal frame,
since monitoring can never be perfect. Being inherently brittle, it needs constant reinforcement through external cues
operating alongside formal monitoring and sanctioning. Leaders and peers setting a good example can provide such
cues. In line with this hypothesis, analysis of multilevel repeated measures data from a vignette study of 580 Indonesian
senior civil servants shows that the perceived likelihood of a hypothetical civil servant accepting a bribe is lowest when
monitoring and sanctioning are strong and when leaders and peers are known to have refused bribes in the past.
Evidence for Practice
• Applying a goal-framing approach that acknowledges the importance of manifest norms provides a useful
means for studying corruption and for understanding the role of leaders and peers.
• A large vignette study showed that a good example set by peers, and especially by leaders, is a powerful
deterrent for civil servants to engage in corruption.
The study confirmed the importance of strong monitoring and sanctioning as tools for corr uption prevention.
Mala Sondang Silitonga
National Institute of Public Administration Indonesia
Marijtje van Duijn
Liesbet Heyse
Rafael Wittek
University of Groningen
Setting a Good Example? The Effect of Leader
and Peer Behavior on Corruption among
Indonesian Senior Civil Servants
Rafael Wittek is professor of sociology
at the University of Groningen, the
Netherlands, and scientific director of the
transdisciplinary Sustainable Cooperation
(SCOOP) research and training program. His
research interests include organizational
and economic sociology, social network
analysis, and sociological theory. His recent
work has appeared in
Public Administration,
Public Administration and Development,
Journal of Public Administration Research
and Theory,
Social Networks
Liesbet Heyse is assistant professor in
organization sociology at the University of
Groningen, the Netherlands. She studies
how public and nonprofit organizations
organize, collaboratively or individually, to
contribute to the common good. She applies
these questions—in close collaboration
with organizations involved—to specific
settings, such as Dutch municipalities and
nongovernmental organizations working
on the labor market integration of refugees
and in the youth care sector, using both
quantitative and qualitative methods.
Marijtje van Duijn is associate
professor of statistics at the University of
Groningen, the Netherlands. Her research
interests include social network analysis,
statistical modeling with a special interest
in random effects models for non-normal
data, and research ethics. Her work is often
motivated by empirical research questions
of collaborators in the Department of
Sociology, requiring novel applications of
statistical models and software.
Mala Sondang Silitonga holds a doctoral
degree from the University of Groningen, the
Netherlands. She is currently working as head of
the division of academic and students affairs in
the School of Administration, National Institute
of Public Administration, Indonesia. She is
interested in corruption and its associated risks
and anticorruption policies in public bodies.
Research Article
As part of the Indonesian government’s
reform efforts, since 1998, it has invested
substantially in measures to reduce corruption.
Many of these measures focus on intensifying formal
institutions, such as adopting anticorruption laws or
establishing and strengthening public organizations to
implement monitoring and sanctioning.
These attempts to control and detect corruption in
the Indonesian public sector reflect an economic view
of corruption, assuming that corrupt individuals are
goal-directed actors who maximize their personal
benefit through a rational choice calculation (de
Graaf 2007; Palmer 2008). Accordingly, as in many
other countries, anticorruption interventions consist
of intensified monitoring (increasing the expected
probability of detection) and increased severity
of punishment (increasing the expected costs of
corruption). For example, Presidential Regulation No.
87/2016 on the Eradication of Extortion or Illegal
Levies was enacted to punish and eradicate extortion
practices by public officials and to create a better
and more transparent public service system. Each
ministry, local government, and other government
agency in Indonesia has its own inspectorate that acts
as an internal control body that monitors whether
organizational rules are obeyed by everyone in the
bureaucracy. As part of external monitoring strategies,
particular state agencies monitor and investigate
alleged corruption and maladministration by public
officials. Examples of such agencies are the Corruption
Eradication Commission and the Indonesian Financial
Transaction Reporting and Analysis Center.
Despite these government initiatives, corruption is
still pervasive in Indonesia, not only among appointed
political leaders but also among senior civil servants
in both central and local government (Silitonga et al.
2016). For example, as a recent Indonesia Corruption
Report (GAN Business Anti-Corruption Portal 2017)
emphasizes, a corrupt judiciary, extensive bribery
in the public service, and the extortion of informal
payments to register businesses or obtain licenses
are still rampant and perceived not only to severely
harm the efficiency of business but also to undermine
property rights protections and weaken dispute
settlement processes. Martini (2012, 1) summarizes
the causes of the persistence and pervasiveness of
corrupt practices in Indonesia. They include “large
amounts of public resources derived from natural
resources, vested interests and politically connected
networks, poorly paid civil servants, low regulatory

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