Unethical practices in politics

Experimental visualization of narrower problems
Other Names:
Political corruption
Political malpractice
Corrupt politicians
Crime in politics
Illegal activity of political parties
Political misconduct
Abusive politics
Dirty politics
Corruption of political parties
Impeached politicians
Ethical misconduct of politicians
Moral imperfections of elected leadership
Fraudulent misuse of funds by political parties
Corruption in politics
Political graft

Corrupt practices include tax evasion, nepotism, looting the national treasury, political bribery, unequal distribution of government contracts, unjust financing of political parties, unjust election administration, use of espionage (especially for domestic purposes), secret police and intimidation. This may lead to political blackmail and corruption in other spheres, to the encouragement of organized crime and violence, lack of credibility in institutions, alienation, apathy, subversive activities, revolution, disintegration, foreign intervention or stagnation. Although corruption is not the preserve of the public services nor solely a feature in developing countries, it is a major problem of public development administration and is a reflection of what happens in society generally. Its prevalence is linked with the power for development decisions being placed in the hands of public servants; and is important because of its impact on the way these decisions are used. The low level of remuneration of a majority of public sector employees, which very often rises at a rate well behind that of inflation and does not adequately compensate for changes in the cost of living, also encourages corruption.

Politicians are known to have taken bribes, payoffs, letting companies or other outside interests to pay speaking fees, trips, accommodation, "gifts" and "income" from joint business ventures, or simply act in ways which would be usually excused in people other than those officials of high fiduciary rank and trust. The public dilemma is often not whether the misconduct was committed but rather whether is was sufficiently serious, inappropriate or unreasonable to make an issue out of it which could rule someone forever out of public office.


Allegations of corruption and questionable practices are characteristic of political debate in many countries. Since politicians are protected by parliamentary immunity, little effort is made to investigate many of the accusations, some of which may be marked by efforts of the police to suppress evidence and to avoid any further action.

[Algeria] In 1992 the Islamic Salvation Front continued its campaign to replace the government claimed to be corrupt and incompetent. In that year the country's president was assassinated reinforcing beliefs that this was due to his commitment to root out corruption.

[Brazil] In 1994 a major investigation of 44 senators and deputies recommended that 18 should be expelled; a further 14 would be further investigated. One group had taken control of the government's budget committee, set up fraudulent charities, and spurious public works projects, then funded them from the budget. The leader had a bank turnover of US$50 million on a salary of US$800,000 (claimed to be the result of having won the state lottery some 200 times). Another scheme involved nine of the principal construction companies. The scandal implicated a number of ministers and state governors.

[Chile] In 1991 a series of allegations of corruption during the previous 17-year military regime were investigated; some appeared to violate bans on business deals between heads of state institutions and their relatives; others involved illegal investment and loan sharking run by the secret police.

[France] France in 1993 contained the largest number of indicted government ministers in Europe. Many politicians at national and local level were under investigation for organizing systems of rake-offs from public works contracts for party funds. Political graft was a major media theme. A 1995 opinion poll found that almost two-thirds of the French think most of their politicians are corrupt, and the overwhelming majority do not believe politics to be an honourable occupation.

[Germany] In 1993, following a series of scandals involving leading politicians confidence in political parties was severely eroded. Misdeeds which would previously have been overlooked became a cause for resignations.

[Greece] A system of patrons and clients going back to the Ottoman empire permeates all life. The powerful patron provides favours; the grateful client, gifts. This applies no less in public life, in a country where civil servants are paid very little.

[India] In 1993 it was alleged that the Congress Party, which led the country to independence, was disintegrating amid charges of corruption and incompetence.

[Ireland] In 1993 the political system was disrupted by investigations into scandals linking right-wing politicians with a multi-million pound scandal in the beef and other industries.

[Italy] The major "Clean Hands" investigation into corruption in politics from 1992 resulted in 30% of the the members of parliament and senate being implicated in some form of scandal by 1994; five former prime ministers and many ministers were implicated. At the regional level many cases were documented of cosy relationships between businessmen seeking public works contracts, organized crime and politicians seeking votes (in exchange for favours). By a system known as lottizzazione, political parties divided up patronage and illicit earnings from government-owned corporations. The creation of a major state-owned chemical corporation was believed to have generated some US$280 million in kickbacks and bribes. Bomb attacks during the investigation were seen as a signal that there was some hidden group behind the exercise of political power which expected to continue to be able to operate. Its preoccupations were considered primarily financial rather than ideological, linking political dimensions, the freemasons and other deviant groups to organized crime.

[Japan] In the period 1991 through 1994 the political system was subject to major disruption by scandals at the highest levels, notably implicating several prime ministers and political power brokers. Observers noted that the traditional system lent itself to corruption, and even to links with organized crime.

[Russia] During the breakup of the former USSR, it was estimated that some $4 billion (totalling more than 10% of Soviet gold reserves) was moved out of the country to Switzerland, although it was unclear whether these amounts formed part of the $12 billion alleged to have been secretly moved out of Communist Party funds into foreign bank accounts.

[Spain] There were major scandals in 1993 concern financing of the Socialist Party and its campaigns in the 1980s through a shadow consulting company established for the purpose of obtaining large contributions from companies. It did this by billing companies some US$8.7 million for reports that were never written (a practice developed by the French Socialist Party).  

[UK] In 1991 the political system was attacked by the Liberal Party as being fundamentally corrupt because of the manner in which language was perverted and centralized power was exercised by dogmatic governments without majority support to implement incompetent policies. In 1993 this was confirmed by disclosures concerning clandestine funding for the Conservative Party, culminating in revelations concerning how foreign businessmen had bought access to ministerial ante-chambers through undisclosed transactions (in one case exceeding £1.5 million). This was seen as exemplifying a world of favours asked and done, mediated by a growing group of influence peddlers, institutionalized lobbyists (some of whom paid members of parliament) and consultancy firms (with a total income of over £10 million in 1991) that had not existed 20 years previously. The official register of financial and other interests of members of parliament was held to disarm criticism without addressing the potential for conflict of interest. Over 200 members of parliament in 1991 were employed externally as "political consultants"; government backbenchers held more than 450 directorships, consultancies and second jobs between them leading to the accusation that it was providing for itself rather than for the nation. Members were permitted to represent any commercial interest in exchange for a fee, provided the representation (but not the fee) was openly declared. Many of the UK's dependent territories are used as tax havens, and reportedly exploited for fraud and money-laundering. In 1994 an estimated 30% of the UK population considered the government as abusing its power or corrupt.

[USA] According to a survey, 30% of people believed in 1990 that their own congressman was corrupt. In 1991 it was revealed that 134 members of the House of Representatives had bounced some 581 cheques of over US$1,000 each (some amounting to US$10,000) at the House's private bank in the first six months of 1990; total misuse of public funds in this way (as what amounted to interest free loans) was estimated to amount to US$2 million per year (with some members overdrawn by US$100,000). By 1992 some 296 members were known to have passed bad cheques in this way; the 66 worst offenders were responsible for US$10.8 million over the previous four years. Media attention focused on questionable processes through which campaign funds were acquired and used. In 1993 it was alleged that the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee had assisted in the embezzlement of taxpayers money.



Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong InstitutionsGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal
Problem Type:
C: Cross-sectoral problems
Date of last update
16.10.2021 – 10:50 CEST