IT is shocking and frightening that serving police officers can storm the offices of a newspaper and vow that they will continue receiving bribes and work with illegal copper dealers until the government starts giving them better salaries.

What are things coming to? If police officers can justify their corruption with such brazenness, where are we headed as a nation? Where does this leave the fight against corruption?

It is clear to us that police officers can only perform their functions properly and efficiently if they are not corrupt - that is, they are effectively constrained by the law.

If, on the other hand, the police is pervaded by corruption, it would be prudent to first engage in reforms to improve its efficiency before engaging it in the fight against corruption.

Low salaries for police officers and other civil servants or public workers have been given as a reason why some of them may engage in corruption. As part of the effort to minimise corruption in the police, civil service and other public sector institutions, it has been suggested that pay scales be raised in line with those in the private sector.

One must note, however, that higher pay in the police and other public sector institutions may simply force opportunistic police officers and other civil servants to demand higher bribes to compensate for the probability of losing what is now a relatively more important and lucrative job.

Of course, there is a broad consensus that low salaries result in a decline of public sector efficiency and productivity and create both incentives and opportunities for corruption and misuse of public resources.

However, it is also agreed that increasing salaries without establishing effective control and monitoring systems as well as enforcement of appropriate sanctions is unlikely to have an impact on corruption.

Underpaid officers develop a wide range of coping strategies to top up incomes, to compensate for their declining purchasing power. It cannot be denied that low salaries provide incentives for corruption. But the story does not end here. It has also been strongly argued that relative pay does not seem to have significant effect on corruption.

This suggests that pay may not have a contemporaneous effect on corruption and that changes in salary scales may not be systematically associated with changes in corruption.

Some research, not only challenges the effectiveness of increasing salaries as an anti-corruption measure, but also concludes that anti-corruption policies designed to increase salaries and net income of potentially corrupt officers may be both ineffective and encourage corruption.

In addition, should a link between salaries and corruption be empirically confirmed, the direction of causality may remain unclear. Corruption may lead to lower pay rather than the reverse, by reducing the public resources available to compensate public officers.

As inefficient public services creates more opportunities for rent-seeking and bribe extortion and corruption, it is argued that higher pay may worsen corruption under certain circumstances, by crowding out other funding necessary for the provision of quality services, undermining the efficiency and productivity of public service delivery.

A further argument relates to the capacity of the civil service to attract and retain the most honest, skilled and motivated officers in the face of long-term decline of average real public sector salaries. The parallel development of the private sector that offer better pay incentives and career opportunities can result in draining highly qualified government officers away from the government.

Pay offered by international organisations may also affect the incentives of public sector officials and contribute to the brain-drain of the most competent civil servants. Similarly, low salaries in the public sector are likely to attract less qualified, poorly motivated and potentially disloyal staff, resulting in an opaque, inefficient and potentially corrupt civil service.

Underpaid staff are more likely to spend a considerable amount of office time on rent-seeking activities, further reducing the overall public service productivity. The combination of these factors is creating working conditions that are conducive to various forms of bureaucratic corruption and misappropriation of public resources.

It is therefore important to consider the full range of incentives embedded within a specific pay system to assess its adequacy and potential to deter corruption.

There is greater public tolerance for corrupt practices when civil servants' incomes are insufficient for living and their relative levels are low or perceived as unfair in comparison to private sector salaries.

Informal payments are perceived as a subsistence strategy that compensate for inequitable working conditions, and economic hardships make it less reprehensible to demand or accept bribes for poorly paid staff as a survival strategy.

Theoretically, higher salaries make corruption potentially more costly, as corrupt behaviours increase the risks of losing a highly rewarding job instead of a low-paying one. In other words, highly paid officials have in principle fewer incentives to indulge in corruption and have more to lose if they are caught.

However, there is a growing consensus that this argument does not directly predict the impact of increasing salary rates on reducing corruption, as other variables are important to consider, such as risks of detection, severity of sanctions and level of enforcement.

But this shocking and frightening story reveals the challenges of combating corruption in this country.

It is impossible to fight corruption with a generally corrupt police service. The police, together with the Judiciary and the mass media, is expected to lead the fight against corruption. But how can a corrupt police lead a fight against corruption in which itself is likely to be a victim?

Even if the civil society is encouraged to remain vigilant and watch out for individuals who engage in corruption, where is it going to report them to? To the police? Which police? The police that works with criminals? The police that is not ashamed to receive money from jerabos?

Citizens are encouraged to be vigilant and report any suspected corrupt activities to the police! But again, which police? The corrupt police? A police that protects criminals, corrupt elements!

Our fight against corruption depends heavily on the effectiveness and professionalism of the police and Judiciary. But if these two are corrupt, what happens to the fight against corruption? It is assumed that such institutions are well constrained by the law and that they are free of corruption. But given what we know, is such an assumption reasonable? If it is unreasonable, again, where does this leave the fight against corruption?

If police officers can be so courageous as to storm a newspaper and pronounce themselves corrupt, then we have a serious problem that needs to be addressed, and urgently so.