A previous article discussed the relationship between criminals, gangs and public officials. But, many times an official can be corrupt without having any relationship whatsoever with criminals or gangs, and there are many types of corruption other than aiding criminals.
Corruption has many forms, but the common thread behind all forms of corruption is simple: an official is corrupt when they attempt to use the power and authority of their public office (elected, appointed or employed) to obtain or do something to which their office does not entitle them.
To see all the ways that officials can be corrupt, we can look at the reasons why they become corrupt.
Money, goods or services. The most obvious reason is for money, such as direct stealing or embezzlement, but this can also mean using public property for personal reasons, or using public services for personal reasons. It can also mean the obvious bribes from other parties for favors, but these bribes can extend beyond just money. Bribes can also take the form of giving officials access to services or things at no cost, or at less cost than anyone else would have to pay for these things.
Extortion. Sometimes a bribe is turned upside down; instead of someone giving the official some thing of value in exchange for a favor, an official might demand some thing of value in exchange for protection from abuse. This situation is called extortion. Hard extortion is when an official simply demands that thing or else. Soft extortion is when people are afraid of an official, and give that official things of value, or do favors for the official, hoping that the official’s wrath will then be pointed elsewhere.
Coercion. A special case of extortion is when a corrupt official desires that a citizen perform an act which is useful to that official, or not perform an act which is undesired by the official. Perhaps the official wants to pick up a piece of property cheap, and attempts to intimidate the owner into running away. Or, the official might attempt to have a citizen arrested to keep them from questioning or investigating that official’s misconduct.
Compromise. Sometimes, an otherwise well-intentioned official has been previously entrapped by criminals or other corrupt officials into doing something which seemed harmless, but is actually illegal. The criminal and corrupt elements can then blackmail this person into acting against their will on behalf of the bad guys.
Ego. Many people seek public office or employment to make themselves feel important. These officials will often take adverse action against citizens simply because they are insulted that someone would question their authority, or feel that they have a right to perks beyond the functions of their office.
Inertia. “That’s not how we do things here” or “we’ve always done it this way” are common excuses used by public officials. Imagine attempting to use this excuse when an official is citing you for a violation.
Ignorance. An official may genuinely not know the correct way to perform their job, but, often, this is just a dodge used to avoid responsibility. Georgia mandates that many types of officials attend training in ethics and public responsibility to eliminate ignorance and inertia as excuses. However, many officials avoid attending this training, perhaps to keep their excuses intact. As with inertia, imagine attempting to use this excuse when an official is citing you. Our public officials should be held to at least the same standard that we, as citizens, are held by them.
Us-Versus-Them. Sometimes officials feel that they are part of a righteous crusade against a citizen or a group which they simply do not like, or to protect another official, citizen or group that they do like. Often, government officials will unthinkingly misuse their power against a citizen, or cover up for another government official in what might seem like a harmless act at the time, even to the point of committing crimes themselves in the process. This then leads to other officials covering up that misconduct, and so on, until the entire system has been corrupted, many times over something which was relatively minor to begin with.
While this list is by no means complete, you can see that corruption has many faces. Fortunately, most of these aspects of corruption leave trails of evidence that we can use to detect and identify official misconduct. In future articles we’ll talk about how we can catch corrupt officials and hold them responsible for their actions.