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Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It is a widespread problem that you may encounter when dealing with public authorities.

  • You may find that a state official refuses to issue a permit to which you are entitled, unless you pay a bribe.
  • It may also affect you when you are using public services, such as healthcare or education.  You may find that the doctor in your local hospital refuses to treat you unless you pay money.  Or you might find that unless you pay a bribe, your children can’t get into the right class at the government school in your town.

Corruption problems are not limited to public officials, though.  You may also find that your dealings with private companies are affected by corrupt acts.

In most countries, corruption is punishable as a criminal offence.  Sometimes the law also enables the victims of corruption to claim compensation for their losses.

In this guide we outline the legal tools which may be available to you for

  • bringing perpetrators of corruption to justice
  • seeking remedies for victims of corruption
  • protecting persons who report corruption, and
  • recovering assets stolen through corruption.

What is corruption?

Corruption occurs when people misuse the authority given to them by the state, by their employer or by someone else.  Rather than doing their duty for the public good, they abuse their position to make money or gain personal advantage.

Corruption takes many forms.  A government or a state authority may apply policies that are designed to give preferential treatment to one group of people rather than another.  Or a public agency may grant a valuable commercial concession to a member of a government minister’s family.     But corruption also occurs at an individual local level, for example where a public official demands a bribe in order to process your application for a building permit.

EXAMPLE: In 1999 the World Bank reported that corruption in Poland’s health-care system was extensive, and that ordinary people were forced to give medical staff gifts or “speed money” to secure prompt treatment. Larger bribes were often required for surgery and other treatment. Public outcry led to the establishment of a Medical Task Force, to expose the corruption and to identify solutions.



The different types of corruption

Here are some examples of the different types of corruption:

  • Somebody offers a bribe to a public official to ensure receipt of permission for a controversial development in your town.  (This is referred to as the active bribery of public officials).
  • A school teacher asks for a private payment in order to give your daughter a place in his class. (This is referred to as the passive bribery of public officials).
  • A local businessman gives a plot of land to the son of a public official, and a few days later the official announces that the businessman’s company is the successful bidder for a project to build a new bridge nearby. (This is sometimes called trading in influence).
  • The head of a special fund set up to assist the victims of a factory fire buys an apartment in a smart district of the city.  The apartment is not affordable on her salary; you suspect that she may have paid for the flat with money from the victim welfare fund. (This is referred to as embezzlement).
  • The head of the state labour ministry orders that an investigation into the mistreatment of employees of a company owned by his nephew should be terminated.   (This is described as abuse of a public function).
  • The director of the city’s water authority gives a contract for a new sanitation plant to his wife’s father. (This is called nepotism).

It’s important to understand that corruption is not limited to the public sector. Many of the above types of corruption can also occur when you deal with companies, trade unions, religious bodies and other private sector entities.

EXAMPLE: In late 2016 the former state president of a large trade union in Australia was charged with soliciting and receiving secret benefits from a large construction company. He was accused of having agreed that the company would undertake $400,000 of free renovations on his home, in return for ensuring that his union did not disrupt the company’s business with threats of industrial unrest.

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