‘Silent and lethal’: World Bank on ‘quiet corruption’. By Stephen Marks

Via: Pambazuka News.

While the data within the World Bank’s latest ‘Africa Development Indicators’ report is certainly rich in highlighting the poor standard of living endured by many in Africa, its focus on the ‘quiet corruption’ of absentee public officials belies the damaging historical effects of its own structural adjustment programmes (SAPs), writes Stephen Marks.

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

But the report, ‘Africa Development Indicators 2010’, has nothing to say on how the World Bank’s own policies have contributed to the weakness of African states, policies that enable ‘quiet corruption’ to continue.

The report notes that most studies on corruption focus on an exchange of money – bribes to powerful political designees or kickbacks to public officials. This 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, the report says.

The report features data and research on quiet corruption in the health, education and agriculture sectors. For example:

  • A 2004 report found that 20 per cent 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 per cent in 2002 and 20 per cent in 2007.
  • Poor controls at the producer and wholesaler levels resulted in 43 per cent of the analysed fertilizers sold in West Africa in the 1990s lacking the expected nutrients, meaning that they were basically ineffective.
  • More than 50 per cent of drugs sold in drugstores in Nigeria in the 1990s were counterfeit, according to some studies.
  • In a direct observation survey of Ugandan healthcare providers, there was a 37 per cent absenteeism rate in 2002 and 33 per cent in 2003.

The World Bank report stresses the long-term effects. ‘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 receiving diluted fertilizers may choose to stop using them altogether, leaving them in low-productivity agriculture.’

This is all true enough. But among the economic indicators, tables and other materials explaining why quiet corruption is such a hindrance to achieving long- and short-term development goals, there is no mention of the impact, at least as great if not far greater, of the World Bank’s own structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) which have denied education, drugs and medical care, and the benefits of improved agricultural techniques through slashing state education and health budgets, and forcing the closure of state-funded agricultural development centres.

However, in addition to the ‘quiet corruption study’, the ‘Africa Development Indicators’ report also provides what it claims, no doubt rightly, is the most detailed collection of data on Africa available in one volume, providing invaluable material for a more radical analysis than the World Bank itself might provide.

The report contains more than 450 macroeconomic, sectoral and social indicators, covering 53 African countries. Data points include:

  • In sub-Saharan Africa the number of people living on less than $2 a day nearly doubled from 292 million in 1981 to 555 million in 2005
  • In the decade 1997–2007 Rwanda and Sierra Leone made the greatest gains in life expectancy – 11 and 8 years respectively. But life expectancy fell by 13 years in Lesotho and 10 years in South Africa and Swaziland in the same period.
  • In 2007 Zimbabwe had the highest adult literacy rate in Africa at 91.2 per cent. Mali and Burkina Faso had the lowest, at 28.7 per cent.
  • South Africa uses the most electric power per person (4,809.0kW/h); Ethiopia uses the least (38.4kW/h).
  • In Mauritius there are 22 children per primary school teacher as against 91 in the Central African Republic (CAR).

The ‘Africa Development Indicators 2010’ also have an online data visualisation tool that can be used to build charts and graphs using the indicators available. This can be found at www.worldbank.org/adi (registration required).


* Along with Axel Harneit-Sievers and Sanusha Naidu, Stephen Marks is the editor of ‘Chinese and African Perspectives on China in Africa’, forthcoming from Pambazuka Press.
* Please send comments to editor@pambazuka.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.



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