Understanding “corruption” in regulatory agencies: The case of food inspection in Saudi Arabia
Public Department of Environmental Health, Municipality of Riyadh, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Food Microbiology and Safety Section, School of Biosciences, University of Nottingham, Loughborough, UK
Dingwall Enterprises Ltd/Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Corruption is a relatively neglected topic in studies of regulatory agencies. The label is applied to a wide range of deviations from behavioural standards ultimately derived from Weber’s account of the ideals of Prussian bureaucracy. This paper draws on a study of the work of Saudi Food Inspectors to argue that it is unhelpful to reduce a complex phenomenon to simple allegations of malpractice that can be managed by disciplinary sanctions. In particular, it asks whether low-level ‘corruption’ is really so different from the use of ‘discretion’ in regulatory enforcement, which is regarded as entirely acceptable by analysts and commentators in the Global North. Is the label ‘corruption’ just another way to ‘other’ the Global South?
Our data show that irregular behaviour by street-level agents may be deeply embedded in the expectations that members of a society have of one another. It is less a matter of personal gain than of maintaining one’s recognition as a fellow citizen. Such behaviour is not easily changed through sanctions directed at individual inspectors. Our study does not exclude the possibility that irregular behaviour can be motivated by personal gain, and properly managed by criminal or similar penalties. However, it does propose that research should be more sensitive to the contexts within which irregular behaviour occurs rather than treating ‘corruption’ as a uniform and homogenous phenomenon.
Regulation & Governance Early View