BAMAKO, June 8, 2010—A discussion on “quiet” or “silent” corruption would be quite difficult without a comparison between this “petty corruption” and the “big time corruption” that fuels major scandals when it attracts media and public attention. That was the message conveyed to World Bank Chief Economist for the Africa Region Shanta Devarajan by participants at a discussion he led on May 14 in Bamako, Mali.
“When we speak about quiet corruption, we are speaking about symptoms of the disease, which is the failure of a system in which citizens have no say in the matter,” Devarajan told an audience of about a hundred participants, including government officials, senior administration personnel, academicians, students, lawmakers, and actors from civil society and the Malian private sector.
The author of Africa Development Indicators 2010: Silent and Lethal: How Quiet Corruption Undermines Africa’s Development Efforts presented numerous figures and illustrations from across the continent related to health, education, and the importation of fertilizers for agriculture. For example, he said, only one percent of public funds allocated to health in Chad reaches its intended beneficiaries! Likewise in Uganda, while teacher salaries in private schools are one-third the rate paid to teachers in public schools, the absenteeism rate in private institutions is almost zero. Teachers in private schools are not paid if they fail to show up for class. “The salary level is not a determining factor; it is the manner in which these salaries are paid,” Devarajan said.
For Inhaye Ag Mohamed, coordinator of the World Bank-financed Growth Support Project, these figures provide food for thought. “It is the role of state oversight that is being debated,” one participant mused, adding that it is the effectiveness of the implementation of public policies and the assessment of their impact that are at issue.
Are Incentives the Solution?
Is there a need to introduce incentives such as those used in Rwanda, where doctors receive bonuses for the number of viable live births or the rate of contraceptive use? “An incentive is just one part of the solution given that it requires the fulfillment of several conditions,” Shanta Devarajan said. Apart for the comparison between petty and big-time corruption and the question of whether or not to introduce incentives for public sector employees, the other burning issue pertains to sociocultural factors. The Chief Economist for the World Bank’s Africa Region contends that too much attention should not be paid to these factors, noting that in Bangladesh, they had thought a cultural concern was preventing girls from attending school, but they just had to build separate sanitary facilities for boys and girls to boost the school enrollment rate for girls.
Typical Malian Cases
Bringing the debate closer to home, participants asked a number of practical questions: Should days on strike be taken into consideration in absenteeism rates? Should absenteeism due to diseases in a region of the world with very high disease prevalence rates be taken into account? Would the context of budgetary constraints or restrictions preclude the use of incentives as a solution? Will employees not find other ways to circumvent the incentive system?
The public sector doctor who sees a patient at the public hospital but makes an appointment for him to go to a private clinic where he is also paid for his services; or the public sector teacher who earns much more money giving private lessons or tutoring at private institutions—these are all cases or situations in Mali that were cited by the participants, but, which are not peculiar to that country. “Corruption is the loophole that the system allows. We therefore have to design sound policies, ever mindful of the following: are my actions in line with the policy that we are implementing and not with donor wishes?” said the Malian minister of mining, Abou-Bakar Traoré, quoting the late Professor Joseph Ki-Zerbo. “One does not develop a country; a country develops on its own.”
Provoking debate to spur action, by adopting more appropriate policies summarizes the objective of the presentation made by Ousmane Diagana, the World Bank Country Manager in Mali, who stressed the practical implementation of policies, laws, and regulations.
“Generally speaking, the legislative and regulatory frameworks are not inadequate, but they must be assessed periodically to ascertain their impact,” Diagana said. “Although the problem has not yet been resolved in Mali, it is not being ignored,” said Finance Minister Sanoussi Touré. “We are cognizant of its impact on growth and development.”