A report by the civil society group, Transparency International, says respect for elders and leaders is a leading cause of corruption in the Cook Islands.
The Cook Islands News reports the authors of the study, as saying, that the political and social hierarchy ensures that people obey their superiors and political bosses.
The corruption watchdog says one of the biggest problems is patronage, or giving jobs, contracts and other favours as payback for previous favours, or in the hope of future favours.
Transparency International says this goes on in families, churches and in the public service.
But the NGO does praise the Cook Islands Audit Office for carrying out investigations that have resulted in successful prosecution.