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AFRICA: Corruption Carries High Cost, World Bank Says

Mohammed A. Salih

WASHINGTON, Mar 16 2010 (IPS) - Poverty is on the rise in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and various forms of corruption threaten to undermine the impact of investments made to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the continent, said the World Bank in a report released Monday on Africa’s development.

The report says the number of people who live on less than two dollars a day has doubled from 292 million in 1981 to nearly 555 million in 2005.

Painting a gloomy picture of Africa’s state of development, the report says the SSA region presents the “most formidable development challenge” of the world. It says thousands of people are dying from preventable diseases on a daily basis, and HIV/AIDS and malaria continue to spread through the continent.

The report also highlights “pervasive” corruption in Africa in a 29-page essay elaborating on the subject. It focuses on “quiet corruption”, a term referring to the “the failure of public servants to deliver goods or services paid for by governments” that do not involve monetary exchange.

The report warns about quiet corruption’s “harmful long-term consequences” for Africa, saying it strongly marginalises the poor.

Although “ubiquitous” in Africa, the Bank says, because it is less “salient” and “noisy”, quiet corruption draws less public attention compared to big corruption.

As an example of quiet corruption, the report says that in some SSA countries, primary school teachers are not in school 15 to 25 percent of the time.

The problem has spread to the health sector as well, with deadly consequences. In rural Tanzania, four out of five children who died of malaria had sought medical attention from the country’s health facilities, to no avail.

The World Bank says a number of factors such as the absence of diagnostic equipment, drug theft, and absence of providers in health centres contributed to the children’s deaths.

In the agriculture sector, one major reason behind the low fertiliser usage among African farmers is the poor quality of fertilisers manufactured in the continent. Although manufacturers have the capability to produce good fertiliser, 43 percent of fertilisers in West Africa in the 1990s lacked the expected nutrients due to poor controls at the producer and wholesaler levels, the report says.

Referring to the pervasiveness of “quiet corruption”, the World Bank report calls the familiar “big-time corruption” – bribes and kickbacks to public officials – the “tip of the iceberg”.

While the World Bank regularly publishes reports on the state of developing world, it has been frequently lambasted for the role it has played in developing countries.

Doug Hellinger, executive director of Development GAP, accuses the World Bank of contributing over time to some of the current problems in Africa through its policies. Hellinger’s organisation works to promote economic justice across the South, a term referring to the developing countries.

“The Bank historically has been the facilitator for Northern corruption by changing the policy environment in these countries,” he told IPS. The term “North” refers to the world’s developed countries.

“Just the fact that the World Bank insisted on full implementation of the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) and held back loans until they were implemented and the fact that these programmes such as privatisation and import liberalisation benefited Northern companies, it created an environment of corruption, it’s a corrupt practice,” he said.

SAPs are used to promote and implement free market policies, deregulation and privatisation in countries that borrow loans from institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Hellinger blames institutions like the World Bank for contributing to the inefficiency of health and education systems in the countries of SSA because “they have been the major institution for the cutting of budgetary support for health and education services” in those countries.

Africa has been a key focus of efforts to implement the MDGs set by world leaders in 2000. While the countries in the region are at different stages of development, SSA appears to have a long way to go to achieve the MDGs.

The MDGs include, among others, considerably reducing poverty, child mortality rates and halting epidemics such as AIDS by 2015. But many countries in SSA still fare poorly in some key areas on the World Bank’s Development Indicator. The overall GDP of the SSA’s 47 countries grew 5.1 percent, with Angola’s growth rate of 14.8 percent at the top and Botswana with a negative growth of -1.0 at the bottom. Zimbabwe has the highest adult literacy rate of 91.2 percent in the SSA, while Mali and Burkina Faso have the lowest with 28.7 percent.

In Chad, only nine percent of the population has access to improved sanitation facilities, while the access rate is 94 percent in Mauritius.

Liberia has the lowest primary enrollment rate of 30.9 percent and Sao Tome and Principe has the highest rate, at 97.1 percent.

Child mortality is also a serious problem, with 155 out of 1,000 children in Sierra Leone dying before the age of one, while in Seychelles, the rate is 12 per 1,000.

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