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Characteristics of effective reward and sanction schemes in the customs sector

Reward and sanction schemes intended to encourage integrity and discourage corruption among public officials are largely based on rational actor models of decision-making. According to these models, the tangible incentives for ethical behaviour and the credible risk of penalties for misbehaviour need to outweigh the material benefits stemming from corruption. However, individual behaviour is also typically affected by moral, psychological and social considerations that can complicate the assumptions of rational decision-making. Therefore, reward and sanction schemes should address non-material factors. Organisational factors such as ethical leadership and the existence of robust human resource practices also influence the effectiveness of reward and sanction schemes. The literature indicates that such schemes work better when designed with the participation of those expected to comply with them.

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6 February 2024
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Characteristics of effective reward and sanction schemes in the customs sector

Main points

  • When used proportionally and in a consistent and complementary manner, reward and sanction schemes can effectively deter corruption in public administration
  • In some corruption prone sectors, such as customs, financial incentives can act as a key determinant of the behaviour of customs officers and their clients alike. Therefore, financial rewards for ethical behaviour as well as administrative penalties, such as fines for misbehaviour, can act as a counterweight to the potential illicit gains stemming from corrupt deals
  • Yet financial rewards and penalties alone are often insufficient to outweigh the lure of dirty money. Fortunately, moral, psychological and social factors are also important drivers of behaviour
  • As such, the effectiveness of reward and sanction schemes may be heightened where they are aligned with individuals’ non-financial motives, such as professional pride and recognition through integrity awards, or ‘deterrence nudges’, such as warnings about the probability of detection and sanction
  • For reward and sanction schemes to ensure convergence between employees’ personal integrity standards and expectations, and those of the organisation, they should thus be integrated into a broader internal affairs and human resources management system, characterised by high degrees of transparency, accountability and impartiality
  • Moreover, robust procedures should be established to apply rewards and sanctions in an impartial manner, with care taken to avoid the perception of unfairness and the emergence of perverse incentives

Cite this publication

Jenkins, M.; Gogidze, L.; (2024) Characteristics of effective reward and sanction schemes in the customs sector. Bergen: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Helpdesk Answer 2024:4)

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About the authors

Matt Jenkins is a Research and Knowledge Manager at Transparency International, where he runs the Anti-Corruption Helpdesk, an on-demand bespoke research service for civil society activists and development practitioners. Jenkins specialises in anti-corruption evaluations and evidence reviews, he has produced studies for the OECD and the GIZ, and has worked at the European Commission and think tanks in Berlin and Hyderabad.

Lasha Gogidze


All views in this text are the author(s)’, and may differ from the U4 partner agencies’ policies.

This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)