Corruption features prominently in assessments of the governance, performance and capacity of South Africa’s public service. However, accounts of corruption too often fail to offer systematic appraisals of its occurrence within the diverse institutional makeup of the public service. This article seeks to address this gap by investigating the relationship between the level and type of corruption, and the institutional characteristics of government departments. Based on an original dataset which assembles published data on financial misconduct, staffing and budgetary information, the article examines whether the institutional makeup of national departments render some more susceptible to corruption than others. The findings highlight the multidimensional nature of corruption, indicating that departmental risk should not simply be judged on its cumulative or aggregate effect: how much corruption do departments sustain, but incorporate the proportional effect of corruption: how much does it matter? Indicators such as overall staff size, ratio of supervisory to non-supervisory staff and functional orientation are necessary but insufficient indicators of corruption risk, whilst budget size appears to have little bearing on increased risk; although there
is more, though not unequivocal, reason to be concerned about departments with a higher percentage of their budgets allocated to goods and services spending.