What is corruption?

What is Corruption?

The Liberia Anti-Corruption Act of 2008 does not define corruption. In fact, it is very rare to see a definition of corruption in this kind of legislation. The 2008 Act simply says that it includes particular criminal offences such as bribery and economic sabotage. Yet these are criminal offences and so there is no reason why the Liberian National Police could not investigate them. What then is corrupt conduct? What is so special about it that the Liberian government established a special agency to deal with it. Why have so many other countries established similar agencies and commissions? When is it necessary to inform the Commission of corrupt conduct rather than the police?

If you hear of corruption going on, you should report it first to the Commission. The essence of corruption is partiality. If a government official is entrusted with a power and he/she uses it for his/her own benefit and not for the public, he/she is showing partiality. These are the main elements of the kind of corrupt conduct that fall within the jurisdiction of the LACC:

(1) it has to be an act or an omission to act of a public official
(2) who is using a particular power given to them which is for a public purpose
(3) but for that official’s own purpose and not the public purposes it was supposed to be used for
(4) in a deliberate or intentional way
(5) and which ultimately amounts to a particular criminal offence

If the case matches all of these criteria, it is something the LACC can investigate. In fact, only the LACC should investigate it.

Some points to note about this definition:
Deliberately: it has to be a deliberate act. It means that it cannot be incompetence or a mistake. A public official can make a mistake or be negligent without being corrupt. Generally though, the fact that a public official makes a “mistake” which benefits themselves or someone they know is usually a very good sign that it was not a mistake at all.

Who is a Public Official? There has to be a public official involved. If not, it is just a matter of the ordinary criminal law and the police. The 2008 Act does not define this term public official but there is a definition of “public sector”. It is very wide: it includes any kind of government agency using state funds carrying out duties and responsibilities defined by laws, regulations, policies and procedures. It includes teachers, police officers, members of the Assembly. It covers all officers that fall within the definition of a civil servant of Liberia but it also includes anyone who receive state funds for state purposes to do something for a public reason. Therefore, it can include temporary employees, contractors, part-timers and consultants.

It is not only public officials who could come under investigation; it also could include a private person who benefitted from the corruption just as much as the public official. A good example is a bribe. The bribe giver could well be committing a criminal offence just as much as the public official who takes the bribe. The same can be said of anyone who receives a benefit of any kind from a corrupt official such as a relative who is given a job or gets better or faster government services. These people will also be investigated by the Commission and, if a criminal offence has been committed, they will be also be prosecuted.
Exercising a public power: A public official can commit a criminal offence. That does not mean it is corruption. It is only corruption of the public official abuses a power he or she has been given for the public good.

Partiality: The public official has to do something for his or own benefit with that public power. But this is normally very widely understood. The simplest example is taking a bribe. But it is also partial to benefit a family member or a friend. It need not involve money; it could involve a corrupt agreement to get someone a job or a better government service or allowing someone to jump a long queue.

Why a criminal offence? It is difficult to imagine a corrupt activity of a public official which would not also be a criminal offence. However, the 2008 Act defines corruption in terms of a range of criminal offences. This does not mean that a person who wants to notify the Commission of a complaint of corruption has to think first whether or not there is a criminal offence committed. If you think you have heard about some kind of corrupt conduct that fits these criteria, you should notify the commission any way. It will be up to the Commission to investigate it and then decide what criminal offences are committed.