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New challenges and old problems – Corruption in municipalities and regions

The Swedish Agency for Public Management has been tasked with providing an overview of the incidence of corruption in the local government sector, the risks of corruption that exist there, and how the local government sector works to prevent and combat corruption.

The Government has also requested that we make comparisons over time and between the local government and central government sectors. In this report, we provide an overview of the situation based on extensive empirical material.

Our conclusions are as follows. The local government sector needs to become better at working to combat corruption in order to effectively manage both new and known risks. The work to combat corruption in the local government sector requires development to ensure that knowledge is spread and risk awareness is raised in all organisations. There is sometimes a narrow view of what corruption is, which could potentially lead to problems such as bias and conflicts of interest being overlooked. There are often internal guidelines, but they do not always cover all activities. The use of risk analyses as part of the work to combat corruption is also relatively unusual.

Corruption is difficult to measure, and different surveys give different pictures of its development over time. Our empirical data shows few signs that corruption has decreased in Sweden. Nepotism and cronyism (i.e. where family or friends, respectively, are given unfair advantages) appear to be more common than direct bribery, but are more difficult to detect. We also find that the number of unreported cases is greater in municipalities and regions than in state authorities. Although cases of suspected corruption appear to be more common in the local government sector than in the central government sector, the number of reports to the police is at a similar level in both sectors. This may be attributable to poorer working practices and a lower level of knowledge and risk awareness.

Many risks, risk areas and risk factors for corruption are established and known. For example, public procurement still appears to be particularly risk-prone and problematic. Technical administration and planning and construction matters are still the most risk-prone areas. One risk area that appears to be new is what is known as welfare crime. Here, corruption can be a subset of a larger problem with actors who deliberately want to take advantage of welfare systems.

Municipalities and regions face several challenges that differ from state authorities in several ways. Municipalities and regions are complex, policy-driven organisations, all of which are responsible for a wide range of activities that can be conducted in various operational forms. A large part of their activities consists of welfare production with close and daily contact with users and the business community. Public procurement is a central tool to enable them to fulfil their commitment. These are important aspects to keep in mind when discussing the incidence of corruption and ways to combat it.

The Swedish Agency for Public Management's ten recommendations to municipalities and regions

The Swedish Agency for Public Management makes the following ten recommendations to municipalities and regions on how they can improve their anti-corruption work.

  1. Management has a great responsibility and must play a central role in the prevention work to combat corruption. Examples: initiating anti-corruption activities, deciding who is responsible for the issues, and addressing suspected corruption.
  2. Corruption is more than just bribery. Prevent any corruption that involves using a public position to gain undue advantage for oneself or others.
  3. Report suspected corruption offences to the police. This applies when there are concrete suspicions of corruption concerning, for example, an employee or an elected official.
  4. Analyse corruption risks and get staff involved. Including staff in discussions about corruption risks can make risk analyses more accurate and staff more aware of the risks.
  5. Integrate anti-corruption work into existing processes as far as possible. Examples: in the annual work with internal control or work environment and in the work to combat welfare crime. Focus on concrete measures that have an impact.
  6. Policy documents must guide and be known. This applies both in our own organisations and in the municipal and regional companies.
  7. Strengthen the necessary knowledge and make staff more aware of corruption risks. Examples: keep the issue of corruption risks alive through regular training courses and discussions on corruption, and by disseminating up-to-date information on corruption within the organisations.
  8. Internal transparency can help break cultures of silence. Talk openly about incidents that have occurred and how you could have worked differently to prevent them.
  9. Inform staff about where to go if they have questions or want to make a report. Make sure there is information on matters such as employees' constitutional rights to provide information to the publishing media.
  10. Cooperate and learn from others. Seek cooperation with other municipalities or regions and contact the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions to improve the work to combat corruption through their various networks and support materials.