There are many definitions of political corruption, I’ll sum up what I’ve read by defining it as: an individual or group with political influence using that influence illegitimately for personal gain at public expense. The gain can include the obvious financial, material benefits but also increased political influence, power, status or dominance. The letter of the law may be honoured while the spirit of the law is broken or the law may simply be changed to benefit the corrupt individual or group.
Corruption can start during the election campaign when campaign contributions have strings attached or are made with implications of later services expected. Increasingly costly campaigning in elections encourages corruption by receiving larger or more donations to get elected. Elections themselves can be manipulated to deny opposition supporters the franchise, by vote purchasing either directly or indirectly using citizen’s own money. Voter suppression techniques such as term limits, calls to end vote splitting or telling people their vote doesn’t count also constitute political corruption. Having certain areas controlled by special interest groups that decide the outcome is also corrupt.
Corruption disguised as mere conflict of interest or conflict of interest that is capable of becoming corruption is avoidable. The elected should declare all conflict of interests publicly and routinely, with full disclosure of personal investments, assets, transactions, associations et cetera that could influence how the make decisions. Failure to divest of assets, to abstain during debates and votes, or in certain circumstances to resign are red flags for corrupt behaviour.
Changing, violating, manipulating or abolish regulations, rules or laws to achieve the appearance of legitimacy for the corrupt act is a common cover up. An example would be violating established rules giving elected officials a cost of living pay rise in an election year to avoid the political consequences at the polls. Elected officials deciding the guidelines for their own pay, benefits and expenses is always a temptation for corruption.
Elected officials being their own prosecutor, judge, and jury while also being the defendant is always a recipe for corrupt behaviour. Standards and oversight should be outside the control of elected officials and report directly to the public. When the executive sits in a legislature that is to weak to or complicit to hold it to account corruption is certainly probable. More public awareness of corruption is needed to help prevent it, as is whistleblower protections. Anti-corruption teams should have the access and resources needed to protect the public.
Corruption normally hides behind secrecy, patriotism, lack of reporting, information vacuums and distractions. Transparency, accountability are thwarted to protect the corrupt activity, with evidence being destroyed, decision making processes left undocumented or done outside the official channels to avoid future scrutiny. The corrupt increasingly operate in the manner of organized crime or terror cells whom they might be affiliated with.
A lack of division between the political element and the civil service element foments conditions corruption can flourish in. Civil servants should be selected outside the political process even though accountable to the elected. This will help insure the apolitical credentials of the civil service and avoid favouritism or office purchase. Favouritism can also occur in hiring and in bidding for contracts or the sale of assets.
Regulations, licence fees and subsidies are also prime means of corruption by preventing competition, allowing bribery for scarce permits, artificially setting prices or creating an unsustainable culture of entitlements. Subsidies may lead to being used to launder the money embezzled by officials. Subsidies lead to greater costs for the worst off, a stagnated economy and environmental destruction. Convoluted tax or fee systems that are difficult to understand or have incentives that are impossible to verify also are open for corruption.
Abuse of power to protect the corrupt practices and those committing them or just by itself is a concern. Procedural tricks, lawsuits, avoiding due process, investigations, audits and defamation of character are all examples of abuse of power with intent to intimidate opponents. Dismissing/attacking civil servants who challenge the policy goals or methods, hunting whistleblowers and misuse of secrecy laws are also examples of abuse of power.
There are severe consequences and lasting effects of corruption in politics, bribery alone could cost the global economy US$ 1 Trillion each year. Corruption is most harmful to the most vulnerable in society and leads to starvation, preventable medical problems, homelessness and death. Corruption can reach a level where violence appears as the only means to remove the corrupt. This can lead to riots, insurgency, civil war as in Syria, or genocide as in Rwanda with rarely the perpetrators of the corruption being the victims of the resultant violence.
Corruption comes in two broad forms as far as I’m concerned; the active and the passive. Active corruption is those who are seeking benefit from their political influence, while passive are those who are aware or suspect corruption but do nothing to preserve their position, avoid harassment or stay alive. No jurisdiction is immune from political corruption, it can happen anywhere. Which means citizens everywhere need to be aware and eternally vigilant before a culture of corruption establishes itself and takes democracy to kleptocracy.
- an IMF Report
- Defining Corruption
- Political Corruption: An Introduction to the Issues
- OECD Recommendations
- UN Convention against Corruption
- Gomery Commission Report, Phase 2
- Jimmy Carter on Campaign Contributions
- The hidden Costs of Subsidies
- Perverse Incentives
- Economics of Subsidies
- Opportunity Cost of Subsidies