“Quiet and lethal: How quiet corruption undermines Africa’s development efforts” – World Bank’s Africa Development Indicators 2010 report

This year’s Africa Development Indicators essay sheds light on “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 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.

“Quiet corruption does not make the headlines the way bribery scandals do, but it is just as corrosive to societies,” said 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 features data and research on quiet corruption in the health, education, and agriculture sectors. For example:

  • 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 33 percent in 2003.

One of the most damaging aspects of quiet corruption is that it can have long-term consequences.  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 fertilizers may choose to stop using them altogether, leaving them in low-productivity agriculture.

Africa Development Indicators 2010 also carries economic indicators, tables and an explanation of why quiet corruption is such a hindrance to achieving long and short term development goals. While some solutions are offered, the hope is that shining a light on the problem of quiet corruption will begin a wider debate and hasten the push for solutions.

In addition to the quiet corruption study, the Africa Development Indicators provides the most detailed collection of data on Africa available in one volume. The report contains more than 450 macroeconomic, sectoral, and social indicators, covering 53 African countries. Data points from the report include:

  • Thirty-seven percent of children who start first grade reach grade five in Chad, while in Mauritius 99 percent reach fifth grade.
  • In Somalia, 29 percent of the population has access to a safe source of water. In Mauritius, it is 100 percent.
  • 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; there are 91 in Central African Republic.

The report introduces new survey tools such as the Public Expenditure Tracking Survey and Quantitative Service Delivery System, which have enabled researchers to track resources and monitor the attendance of frontline providers. These research and survey results have improved the understanding of a broad range of misconduct and contributed to reshaping the policy debate about corruption.

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