Bureaucrats who Risk Kidnappings to Go to Work? Experiments on Social Norms in Haïti's Bureaucracy


Public sector absenteeism limits the provision of services in many low-capacity settings. In fragile states the puzzle may be why any bureaucrats do decide to go to work. There are limited means to find and sanction absentees. All employees experience long periods without pay. On the other hand, the cost of travelling to work can seem exorbitant. In Haiti, travelling to national ministries incurs the risk of being abducted by gangs. We conduct two survey experiment to investigate whether reciprocal norms and beliefs about peer effort explain how the Haitian state remains able to provide a modicum of services. First, bureaucrats participate in a public goods game. We then provide information about their peers’ contributions (high or low). This succeeds in raising (lowering) their beliefs about peer contributions but does not raise (lower) own contributions in subsequent rounds. This may explain why there is neither a vicious nor virtuous cycle in absenteeism. Second, we elicit respondents’ beliefs about peer attendance. When updated using information about actual attendance from another provincial unit in the same ministry, this changes beliefs only when done in Haitian Creole. There is no effect when this information is conveyed in French. In Haiti, laws and other de jure information is typically conveyed in French while conversations among colleagues take place in Haitian Creole. The fact that we find no effect from information conveyed in the de jure language, suggests formal rules are unlikely to explain attendance. We rule out a number of other explanations, e.g. trust in the government, or a belief that it is possible to do good by working for it cannot explain who comes to work.

In Progress