Social networks, corruption and institutions of accounting, auditing and accountability

Joseph Phiri, Pinar Guven-Uslu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
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Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to investigate institutions of accountability in Zambia in order to understand how social networks may influence such institutions not to discharge their mandates as expected from time to time. The study equally seeks to explore how social networks may perpetuate corrupt activities and compromise the functioning of institutions of accountability. Design/methodology/approach: The conceptual framework adopted in this study draws on insights from social network theory (SNT) and Bourdieu’s ideas of capital to devise a critical lens for investigating network activity and its influence on the functioning of institutions of accountability. Qualitative data were collected through semi-structured interviews with respondents drawn from different institutions of accountability. Social network analysis was conducted through content analysis. Findings: Research findings highlight the presence of networks of a corrupt nature operating within government structures and some institutions of accountability. Manifested in the form of systemic and familial archetypes, these networks appear to be championed and propelled by senior government officials like controlling officers and other actors of a political nature including ministers and presidents. Most of these corrupt activities are organised through brokerage mechanisms that interface internal and external networks. Research limitations/implications: Due to the clandestine nature of corruption activities, however, the study was unable to determine measures of centrality and density since these details were not forthcoming during interviews. Such information could only become available if willing individuals involved in corruption could be identified so that they explain who they conduct their corruption with together with the number of connections involved and the most influential individuals in those networks. Social implications: This study helps us to understand that activities of a corrupt nature are often undertaken through well-connected groups and networks that make it difficult for institutions of accountability to detect and untangle such activity. The study also suggests that accountants and other accountability actors may have forgotten that accounting is not just a technical discourse for enhancing one’s economic status but is an ethical profession as well. There is a great need to put institutions in place which should hold everyone, including the president and ministers, accountable to the Zambian people in the light of wrongdoing. Dismantling the corrupt network activities inferred from the data entails a complete top-down change in systems of politics, governance, wealth distribution and social values. Originality/value: This study contributes towards filling the gap of undertaking accounting research of a critical nature focussed on African contexts (Rahaman, 2010). The paper is equally an attempt at providing empirical flesh to Laughlin’s (1991) framework on organisational transformations through complementing that framework with SNT. The study is also among the first to draw on the experiences and insights of actors working within institutions of accountability to highlight accountability challenges within an African context.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)508-530
Number of pages23
JournalAccounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal
Issue number2
Early online date12 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2019


  • Accountability
  • corruption
  • institutions of accountability
  • social network theory
  • Zambia

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