Infractions Rates in Local Government

After assuring respondents in several ways about the anonymity of their responses the MMES queried them about the frequency with which each respondent had observed ethical infractions of varying kinds and of varying levels of seriousness. These infractions were broken down into three different categories: Information Abuse, Workplace Issues, and Corruption. As per expectations the most serious category, corruption, registered the lowest observed instances. This may be due to its actual rareness, the respondents’ social desirability bias, or the fact that such infractions are naturally more closely protected from observation due to the legal consequences. Below is a summary of what we found.

Information Abuse

Public officials have access to a wide variety of confidential information about many subjects, the citizens themselves, municipal contracts and purchasing processes, development applications and plans etc… Some of the most common forms of ethical infraction we found involved the inappropriate handling and use of such information.

  1. Financial gain due to the improper use of confidential information
  2. Falsification or improper manipulation of financial data
  3. Misuse of confidential information
  4. Carelessness with confidential information
  • Two out of three respondents had witnessed instances of carelessness with confidential information.
  • Almost half of respondents witnessed at least one case of misuse of confidential information.
  • In addition, both of these categories had the highest percentage of being “always or often witnessed” (one in fourteen respondents) compared to any other ethics infraction on the entire survey.
  • In contrast to most other infractions, carelessness with confidential information can often be committed unintentionally. It was also one of the categories most strongly negatively correlated with ethics training.
  • Therefore, CEPL strongly recommends the implementation of ethics training and codes that address the proper handling of confidential information.

Workplace Issues

Like any large organization, another area of concern is the workplace environment and the relations among employees. We broke workplace issues into three categories: sexual harassment, violation of employee privacy, and hostile work environments.

  1. Sexual harassment
  2. Violation of employee privacy
  3. Hostile work environment
  • A slim majority of respondents had witnessed at least one instance of a hostile work environment.
  • Close to 2 out of 5 respondents had witnessed at least one instance of sexual harassment and violations of employee privacy.
  • One in twenty respondents “often or always” witnessed violations of employee privacy and hostile work environments.


Finally, we examined some measures of corruption. We asked respondents about observed instances of: embezzlement/theft, vote/favor trading behind closed doors, and acceptance of improper gifts or favors.

  1. Embezzlement and theft
  2. Vote/favor trading behind closed doors
  3. Acceptance of improper gifts or favors
  • One in four respondents had witnessed an instance of the acceptance of improper gifts or favors.
  • A similar rate of vote/favor trading behind closed doors was observed.
  • More than one in ten had witnessed a case of embezzlement and theft.