Albert Rukwaro
Contributing Columnist
“State Capture” is a term that entered the political lexicon in the mid 2000’s to describe a form of political corruption that was then engulfing the new governments created after the fall of the former Soviet Union.
State capture works through the enlisting of elected government officials and bureaucrats who work, not for the public good, but for the benefit of select private individuals.
It is a form of systemic political corruption in which private interests significantly influence governmental decision-making processes for their own advantage.
While the term describes actors in national governments, some of which are ruled by tin pot dictators, its parallels can be seen in some municipal entities.
Some American cities, notably Chicago, have been victims of this kind of corruption, mostly advanced by private developers who work with local aldermen to pass ordinances that are geared solely for the benefit of private individuals.
For this kind of corruption to work, officials find ways to circumvent laws and keep details about deliberations away from the public.
They enlist (or install) bureaucrats who will go along with the schemes and find ways to go around established channels of public discourse.
Public hearings before important decisions are made are rarely held or they are held purely for show.
The public is allowed to know only nuggets of information, such as with recent quick decisions at the Gardner City Hall involving a raft of annexations in which only summaries of the ordinances were published.
The tentacles of corrupting influences are clear, if you look close enough.
In the past, citizens were kept well informed about such matters mainly through the press, but in recent years local news outlets have folded in alarming rates and the few that remain lack the resources to perform the shoe-leather investigatigative work that would uncover such schemes.
Newspaper readers have flocked to social media networks and so have advertisers, leaving local outlets with shrinking budgets to face newly emboldened and increasingly arrogant public officials who believe they can do whatever they want without facing any consequences.
Moreover, the press has been under assault with terms like “fake news” thrown around for good measure.
But it is our view that public officials and entities ought to serve only the public interest, not the interests of developers or other private entities.
It is our view that public business should be conducted out in the open where citizens can have a chance to weigh in on decisions that will affect them. And it is our view that springing new ordinances without notice and then only offering carefully crafted summaries to the public is wrong and should not be tolerated.
We hold these views passionately and we will strive to fulfill our mission every week.
But the only sure way to guard against such abuses is for the citizens to get involved. We hope you do.