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Corruption in local government

The term local government can mean different things depending on what system of government is being used. The basic concept is a district that has the authority and power of local self-government. Usually, local governments must answer to or share authority with the national government, central government, or federal government, but again this depends on what type of government exists in that area. A self governing district is called a municipality in political terms. Municipalities can consist of one or more regions, states, provinces, cities, towns, villages, or counties.

Local public officials who hold positions of power in a municipality many times misuse or abuse their power for dishonest or unlawful gain. The improper use of influence, power, or other means for private gain is called corruption. Citizens and voters may have a slightly different view of political corruption and may think of it as when a candidate promises something they are not planning on following through with. Opportunities to engage in corruption are numerous in local governments because of the many personal relationships involved and the trust given to local governing officials.

Certain demographic factors may exist within a municipality that can lead to or encourage corruption within a local government. Demographic factors pertain to demography which is the study of human population statistics, changes, and trends including personal characteristics of humans like population size, migration, age, gender, social class, level of education, race, religion, occupation, and family status. Because there are many factors that can lead to corruption in local government it is hard to study corruption patterns empirically, but recently, improved research strategies and information sources have made such studies better.

Types of Corruption Found in Local Government

There are several types of political corruption that occur in local government. Some are more common than others, and some are more prevalent to local governments than to larger segments of government. Local governments may be more susceptible to corruption because interactions between private individuals and officials happen at greater levels of intimacy and with more frequency at more decentralized levels. Forms of corruption pertaining to money like bribery, extortion, embezzlement, and graft are found in local government systems. Other forms of political corruption are nepotism and patronage systems. One historical example was the Black Horse Cavalry a group of New York state legislators accused of blackmailing corporations. Bribery is the offering of something which is most often money but can also be goods or services in order to gain an unfair advantage. Common advantages can be to sway a person’s opinion, action, or decision, reduce amounts fees collected, speed up a government grants, or change outcomes of legal processes.

Extortion is threatening or inflicting harm to a person, their reputation, or their property in order to unjustly obtain money, actions, services, or other goods from that person. Blackmail is a form of extortion.

Embezzlement is the illegal taking or appropriation of money or property that has been entrusted to a person but is actually owned by another. In political terms this is called graft which is when a political office holder unlawfully uses public funds for personal purposes.

Nepotism is the practice or inclination to favor a group or person who is a relative when giving promotions, jobs, raises, and other benefits to employees. This is often based on the concept of familism which is believing that a person must always respect and favor family in all situations including those pertaining to politics and business. This leads some political officials to give privileges and positions of authority to relatives based on relationships and regardless of their actual abilities.

Patronage systems consist of the granting favors, contracts, or appointments to positions by a local public office holder or candidate for a political office in return for political support. Many times patronage is used to gain support and votes in elections or in passing legislation. Patronage systems disregard the formal rules of a local government and use personal instead of formalized channels to gain an advantage.

Demographic factors Causing Corruption

Socioeconomic characteristics and the size of the population of people that make up a municipality can be encouraging factors for local government officials to engage in corrupt practices. Patterns of political corruption can be found in places that have a similar demographic make-up. Demographic factors that have been known to lead to or increase the likelihood of corruption in a local government system are religion, race, class, size of the municipality, local economic conditions, education, political culture, and gender. Some factors are interrelated or can lead to other factors which may cause more corruption.

Religion

Religions can influence how citizens place their loyalties, for instance, whether religion, family, community, or local government requires more involvement or is more important to them. The less involved citizens are in local politics, the less aware they are of corruption in local government, and thus the more corrupt a local system can be.

Race & Class

Social & urban segregation and abuse of political power in a municipality can lead to a more corrupt local government. The different areas of the municipality will have very different wants, needs, and ideas and therefore, will constantly struggle against each other for better representation in the local government and more favorable legislation for their area. Socially, racially, or ethnically divided municipalities tend to have more corrupt local officials and less organized systems. Governments with racial divisions will have internal antagonism and opposition between the different races and more incentive to use illegal means to gain advantages over the opposing side. Less organized government processes allow for more opportunities for corrupt practices to go unnoticed.

Size of a Municipality

Larger municipalities tend to encourage corruption to take place within a local government. Bigger municipalities require more local officials to represent and run the local government. With more officials, it is harder to keep tabs on each one and establish a decent administration and to monitor their activities. Large municipalities may also have inadequate or insufficient policing and prosecution of corrupt local officials. This also encourages corruption to occur in local government because there is less likelihood of either getting caught or prosecuted, therefore, more officials may become dishonest or at least be tempted to.

Condition of the Local Economy

Low economic development has been found to be an encouraging factor for political corruption. Economic practices like dependence on raw material industries and drug trades are characteristic of poorer cities and areas with increased amounts of corruption. Economic dependence on certain industries will also lead to less stable governments and less amount of money available to fund governments. Fragile economies lead to increased levels of poverty and less opportunities to get out of poverty. Poverty is a known factor that encourages corruption in local governments. Places with failing economies and poverty sometimes get loans or start aid programs to support the local economy and the people, and public officials are often able to unlawfully take the money or goods for private gain. With less money available, local officials are more likely to get lower wages which is seen as another factor that leads to corruption. Officials who get lower wages which are not enough to provide for their necessities, they will many times become corrupt and try something like embezzling money that may entrusted to them in the local treasury. Low wages can cause economic insecurity and encourage politicians to take advantage of current opportunities as a public figure of authority. On the other hand, some researchers argue that the more money a local government has to spend, the more tendency it will have to do so inefficiently, which can lead to suspicions of corruption. Overall, poorer municipalities are more often perceived to have corrupt local governments than rich ones.

Education

Lower levels of education which are often caused by poverty are seen as a factor which encourages corrupt government practices. With less amounts of education people are not informed as to how the government works or what rights they have under the government. It is easier for corrupt office-holders to conceal corrupt activities from a poorly educated public. Uneducated citizens are less likely to be aware of corruption in local governments or how to stop it, and therefore, corruption is able to remain and spread. Without some kind of political awareness, citizens will not know which candidates to elect that are honest or dishonest or other ways to prevent corruption from taking place in their local governments. This often leads municipalities to be continually governed by one or more corrupt local officials who use patronage or nepotistic practices to stay in office or keep influence in the government for long periods of time. When local political leaders are less educated, they will be less likely to find legitimate ways to make the municipality well-structured, productive, and successful.

Political Culture of the Municipality

Many local governments have an established political culture with certain expectations and practices that often determine what is seen as acceptable and not acceptable in local politics. In municipalities with an undeveloped or underdeveloped political culture, accountability and legitimacy is usually low and principles of ethics in government are not established. This can encourage corruption to take hold in the local government because citizens do not know what is considered corrupt, and local officials are not afraid to be corrupt because of the low accountability. In some places the local governments have been corrupt for so long that the citizens think that is how it is supposed to work because that is all they have been exposed to. Long periods of political instability will also lead to corruption in the government because people are unsure of how the government should operate, and thus do not know what practices are corrupt or how to stop them if they are corrupt.

Gender

Research shows that women are more trustworthy than men and are less likely to be corrupt. Women are less likely to agree with corrupt practices like bribery or take bribes. Having no or fewer women in the local government is another factor that may encourage corruption. Places that do not have policies to narrow gender gaps and give women equal rights in the government more commonly have less integrity and more corruption in them.

Corruption Perceptions Index

Ways to Stop and Prevent Corruption in Local Governments

  • The most important thing is to resolve the underlying factors that cause corruption in local government.
  • Continue to change the primary focus of global Anti-Corruption campaigns to local governments
  • Because they are closest to citizens, transparency and accountability are the most important to the legitimacy of local officials
  • It is simpler to find partners to stop corruption locally
  • National politicians many times start off their political careers in the local government.
  • Develop incentives that encourage honest governments by perhaps redesigning the terms of public employment
  • Accountability-enhancing reforms and Civil service reform
  • Strengthening the oversight and sanctions of local officials to improve accountability
  • Anti-corruption monitoring groups or commissions
  • Enforce existing anti-bribery legislation
  • Create more policies to close the gender gap in public office holding

Links and References

Academic References

The Causes of Corruption: A Cross-National Study Daniel Treisman Department of Political Science ,University of California , Los Angeles , 4289 Bunche Hall , Los Angeles ,CA 90095- 1472,USA http://www.nobribes.org/Documents/The%20causes%20of%20corruption.pdf

Consequences and Causes of Corruption– What do We Know from a Cross-Section of Countries? Johann Graf Lambsdorff http://www.wiwi.uni-passau.de/lehrstuehle/lambsdorff/downloads/Corr_Review.pdf

A Handbook on Fighting Corruption CENTER FOR DEMOCRACY AND GOVERNANCE U.S. Agency for International Development http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/democracy_and_governance/publications/pdfs/pnace070.pdf

Web References

Corruption and Development CHERYL W. GRAY AND DANIEL KAUFMANN http://www.worldbank.org/fandd/english/0398/articles/020398.htm

Transparency Internat’l http://www.transparency.org/building_coalitions/public/local_goverment/localindex.html

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