‘Quiet Corruption’ Impedes African Development, World Bank Report Says

What the World Bank has dubbed “quiet corruption” in it’s Africa Development Indicators 2010 report (.pdf) could be as significant a threat to the continent’s development “as the graft scandals that frequently dominate newspaper headlines,” Bloomberg/BusinessWeek reports (McGregor/Seria, 3/15).

“‘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,” according to a World Bank press release. The report examines how this type of corruption “leads to an increasingly negative expectation of service delivery systems, causing families to ignore the system,” the press release notes (3/15).

“Healthcare, education and other services are suffering because of malpractices that don’t involve the exchange of money, negating gains from increased aid to the continent, the Washington-based lender said,” Bloomberg/BusinessWeek writes (3/15).

The report documents different cases of small-scale corruption. The “most common examples … are absentee teachers in public schools and absentee doctors in primary health clinics,” The Citizen reports. “Others include drugs being stolen from public health facilities and sold in the private market as well as subsidised fertiliser being diluted before it reaches farmers” (3/16).  

“The report notes that small-scale corruption … is hard to measure, in part because it becomes a society’s norm,” the Vancouver Sun writes. “Small-timers feel justified because their bosses are big-time cheaters. Clients expect to be gouged – for example, more than 80 percent of companies in a handful of the worst countries expect to pay under-the-table to get minimal government services performed and/or to win a contract. People stop looking for health care or help from the teacher because they know they won’t get it,” the newspaper reports.

The Vancouver Sun cites a 2008 study in Tanzania that found nearly 80 percent of children who died of malaria had sought care in a modern medical facility. “Quiet corruption, including absence of diagnostic equipment, drug pilfering, provider absenteeism and very low levels of diagnostic effort all contributed to this dire statistic,” the report said of the Tanzania study (Cayo, 3/16).

In the World Bank press release, Shanta Devarajan, chief economist for the bank’s Africa region, said though the corruption documented in the report “does not make the headlines the way bribery scandals do … it is just as corrosive to societies.” He continued, “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” (3/15).

To fight this corruption Devarajan recommends “empower[ing] citizens to demand information about how government budgets are spent and [providing] public servants with incentives to do their jobs well,” Bloomberg/BusinessWeek writes. He noted an example in Rwanda, where health workers receive a financial bonus each time they examine a pregnant woman or immunize a baby. The incentives have reportedly helped reduce Rwanda’s child mortality, Bloomberg/BusinessWeek reports (3/15). 

The Citizen writes that “[t]he report also carries economic indicators and an explanation of why ‘quiet corruption’ is such a hindrance to achieving long and short-term development goals” (3/16).

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