“Quiet corruption” can be just as detrimental to a country’s overall economic growth and development as large corruption and bribery scandals that receive much sensational press play and media attention, warns a just-released World Bank report.
In a report entitled Africa Development Indicators 2010, the World Bank defines “quiet corruption” as the failure of public servants to deliver goods or services paid for by governments. The report charges that quiet corruption is pervasive and widespread across Africa and adversely affects Africa’s poor in the long term.
Africa Development Indicators (ADI) is the flagship report of the World Bank’s Africa region. It is the most detailed collection of data on Africa, containing more than 1,600 indicators, covering 53 African countries and spanning the period 1961 to 2008. The report includes an annual essay drawing on ADI indicators. This year, the focus is “quiet corruption.”
“Quiet corruption” can take place when a child is denied a proper education because a teacher who, according to government budgets, is supposed to be teaching full time is, instead, nonexistent because salaries to pay the teacher have been fraudulently diverted to corrupt officials or other such influential parties. Actions such as that, the report warns, will directly and adversely affect a nation’s ability to compete and prosper in the international marketplace for a long time because if they are widespread, the country’s population will lack the skills needed to compete.
A World Bank press release on the report states that most studies on corruption focus on an exchange of money and bribes to powerful political designees or kickbacks to public officials. Conversely, “quiet corruption,” the report says, leads to an increasingly negative expectation of service delivery systems and is particularly harmful to the poor, who are more reliant on government services and public systems to satisfy their basic needs.
“Quiet corruption does not make the headlines in the way bribery scandals do, but it is just as corrosive to societies,” says Shanta Devarajan, chief economist for the World Bank’s Africa Region. “Tackling quiet corruption will require a combination of strong and committed leadership, policies and institutions at the sectoral level, and — most important — increased accountability and participation by citizens.”
The report, which contains data and research on “quiet corruption” in Africa’s health, education and agriculture sectors, makes the following points:
A 2004 report found that 20 percent of teachers in rural western Kenyan primary schools could not be found during school hours, while in Uganda, two surveys found teacher absentee rates of 27 percent in 2002 and 20 percent in 2007.
Poor controls at the producer and wholesaler levels resulted in 43 percent of the analyzed fertilizers sold in West Africa in the 1990s lacking the expected nutrients, meaning that they were basically ineffective.
More than 50 percent of drugs sold in drugstores in Nigeria in the 1990s were counterfeit, according to some studies.
In a direct-observation survey of Ugandan health care providers, there was a 37 percent absenteeism rate in 2002 and a 33 percent rate in 2003.
Separately, the Financial Times reported March 17 that the United Kingdom had cut off aid to a premier education program in Kenya after officials there were accused of embezzling more than $1 million from the program. An investigation reportedly is centering on claims that dozens of officials fraudulently misappropriated money from the project by issuing fraudulent invoices for workshops that did not take place.
Akere Muna, vice-chairman of the nongovernmental group Transparency International’s board of directors, spoke about “quiet corruption” in a recent interview prior to the publication of the World Bank report.
Muna stressed that one of the best ways to fight “quiet corruption” is with a vibrant and free press.
Sub-Saharan African nations often lack an adequately trained free press that is informative, authoritative, responsible and not sensational, Muna said. Drawing from his own experience in Cameroon, he said it is important for local journalists to report on government budgets and pending projects, such as the construction of a well or road in a village. Citizens then can question their leaders on the project’s status and the disposition of the funds for that project. “That is empowerment that encourages accountability,” he said.
Muna, who is also president of the Pan African Lawyers’ Union (PALU), said an active civil society is also important. Muna described civil society as the “salvation” force charged with realigning governmental processes to ensure that things are happening to improve society as a whole.