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Measuring Public Resource Abuse in Arkansas

By Mavuto Kalulu

Public corruption exists at all levels of government. The impact of the abuse of public services may be strongly felt at the local government level because of the direct contact these government officials have in the provision of services. In Arkansas, for example, county governments are responsible for emergency medical services, fire prevention and protection services, solid waste collection and disposal services and public health services.  When public officials misuse public resources, it means less resources to provide such services.

Quantifying the amount of resources abused by public officials is not an easy task. By its nature corruption is secretive and hence the known cases may be but a fraction of the whole. Despite that, it is important to attempt to quantify the level of resource abuse taking place using previous cases. To do so for Arkansas I relied on information obtained from various Prosecuting Attorneys Disposition of Matters Referred by Legislative Joint Auditing Committee reports. Under the  Ark. Code Ann. § 10-4-419, the Legislative Auditor is required to notify appropriate prosecuting attorneys of transactions reflecting “ evidence of apparent unauthorized disbursements or unaccounted for funds or property by a public official or employee.” The reports prepared by the Legislative Audit provide a summary of the disposition of matters referred to the Prosecuting Attorneys of the State’s 28 judicial districts. Table 1 includes the total number of matters that Legislative Audit referred to the Prosecuting Attorneys at all levels of government in Arkansas in each year between 2010 and 2017. A total of 1,856 matters were referred to the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee over the 7 year period.

Table 1: Matters Referred to Legislative Joint Auditing Committee by the Legislative Audit (2010-2017)
Year Matters referred Charges Filed Conviction Pending Acquitted /Dismissed Prosecution Declined Insufficient Evidence Other/ethics violation Under Review
2010 223 40 33 5 2 1 82 42 58
2011 181 23 16 4 3 2 91 33 32
2012 195 28 20 6 2 5 84 32 46
2013 246 33 18 14 1 5 119 43 46
2014 259 50 28 20 2 27 87 51 44
2015 246 42 32 9 1 8 88 55 53
2016 244 32 19 10 3 12 77 76 48
2017 262 38 23 13 2 13 100 79 32
Total 1856 286 189 81 16 73 728 411 359
Source: Exhibit I from various Prosecuting Attorneys Summary of Disposition Reports of Matters Referred by Legislative Joint Auditing Committee

 

Table 1 also provides what became of the matters that were referred to the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee. For example, 286 of them were filed in courts for prosecution (column 3). Of particular interest is the 189 of the 286 cases that resulted in convictions. This number helps us calculate the amount of public resources that were misappropriated by public officials in the state between 2010 and 2017.  

How much in public resources did Arkansans end up losing as a result of these 189 conviction cases? Table 2 provides a summary of the total amount of resources that were abused in each of these years, as well as the total amount of tax dollars lost over this 10 year period.

Table 2: Total Dollar Value of the 189 Cases that Resulted in Convictions  
Year Amount
2010 3,575,442
2011 553,832
2012 411,348
2013 887,666
2014 913,577
2015 534,216
2016 493,921
2017 5,238,128
Total 12,608,130
Source: Exhibit IV of various Prosecuting Attorneys Disposition reports

 

The $12.6 million total is tax dollars that were abused at all levels of government. Of the $12.6 million, roughly $2.8 million was misappropriated by county governments. Table 3 shows the amounts that were misappropriated at county governments in Arkansas in each of the years between 2010 and 2017.

Table 3: Total Dollar Value of  39 Conviction Cases at County Level
Year Amount
2010 199,185
2011 94,831
2012 126,694
2013 49,084
2014 322,017
2015 267,333
2016 52,239
2017 1,668,420
Total 2,779,803
Source: Exhibit IV of various Prosecuting Attorneys Disposition reports

 

These $2.8 million are tax dollars that county governments could have used to provide better services for their constituents. Identifying misappropriation of public funds should not be the responsibility of Legislative Audit alone. Taxpayers have a role to play as well by requiring that their elected officials are transparent in the way they use resources.  The hope is that the information contained in this article and in the Arkansas Center for Research in Economics Policy Brief titled “Let the Sun Shine in: Improving Access to Arkansas Counties’ Financial information” would inspire constituents to demand more transparency and encourage them to hold public officials accountable. $2.4 million of $2.8 million misappropriated at county level occurred in counties that publish no fiscal information according the transparency report produced by the Arkansas Center for Research in Economics. Fiscal transparency can deter public officials from engaging in corrupt practices as it adds another layer of scrutiny on the use of public funds.  Preventing corruption through transparency is better than curing it through criminal convictions.