“Quiet Corruption” undermining development in Africa: World Bank

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“Quiet corruption” – the failure of public servants to deliver goods or services paid for by governments – is pervasive and widespread across Africa and is having a disproportionate effect on the poor, with long-term consequences for development, according to a new report from the World Bank.

The report, Africa Development Indicators 2010, notes that most studies on corruption focus on an exchange of money – bribes to powerful political designees or kickbacks to public officials. This latest report instead focuses on the way “quiet corruption” leads to an increasingly negative expectation of service delivery systems, causing families to ignore the system. Quiet corruption, although smaller in monetary terms, is particularly harmful for the poor, who are more vulnerable and more reliant on government services and public systems to satisfy their most basic needs.
“Quiet corruption does not make the headlines 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.”

Among the examples cited was a 2004 research report that found that 20% 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% in 2002 and 20% in 2007. Poor controls at the producer and wholesaler levels resulted in 43% of the analysed fertilisers sold in West Africa in the 1990s lacking the expected nutrients, “meaning that they were basically ineffective”. In addition, more than 50% of drugs sold in pharmacies in Nigeria in the 1990s were counterfeit, according to some studies. Furthermore, in a direct observation survey of Ugandan health care providers, there was a 37% absenteeism rate in 2002 and 33 percent in 2003.
“Not only is quiet corruption pervasive and widespread in Africa, but it hurts the poor disproportionately,” Obiageli Ezekwesili, the World Bank’s vice-president for Africa, said in the report. “Worse still, it can have long-term consequences,” she added. A child denied a proper education because of absentee teachers will suffer in adulthood with low cognitive skills and weak health. The absence of drugs and doctors means unwanted deaths from malaria and other diseases. Farmers used to receive diluted fertilisers may choose to stop using them altogether, leaving them in low-productivity agriculture.

South Africa’s efforts to ramp up public spending on education had not translated to higher student test scores, in part because the money was being stolen by corrupt officials and partly because of high levels of teacher absences, Devarajan said from London in a video conference with reporters yesterday, Bloomberg adds.



Pic: The World Bank building, Washington DC