Cor­rup­tion still mars Africa aid ef­forts, Wol­fowitz says

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By John Zarocostas

GENEVA — World Bank Pres­i­dent Paul Wol­fowitz warned par­lia­men­tar­i­ans at a global fo­rum here last month that ram­pant cor­rup­tion — es­pe­cially in poor African na­tions — jeop­ar­dizes in­ter­na­tional ef­forts to com­bat poverty and dis­ease.

“Ev­ery dol­lar di­verted by cor­rup­tion is a dol­lar that won’t go to­ward jobs, health care and other es­sen­tial ser­vices for the poor. [. . . ] Cor­rup­tion is a dis­ease that thrives on dark­ness. Trans­parency, par­tic­i­pa­tion and ac­count­abil­ity — the light that em­anates from an em­pow­ered cit­i­zenry — are the strong­est an­ti­dotes to cor­rup­tion,” he said.

Speak­ing to del­e­gates from more than 100 coun­tries at­tend­ing the 115th an­nual as­sem­bly of the In­ter­Par­lia­men­tary Union, Mr. Wol­fowitz said: “As leg­is­la­tors, you may be asked by your con­stituents why they should give money to Africa if it lines the pock­ets of cor­rupt lead­ers and fails to ben­e­fit the poor. You may be asked why they should con­tinue sup­port­ing Africa af­ter some $300 bil­lion de­vel­op­ment aid went to the con­ti­nent in the last 20 years with lit­tle re­sults to show for it.”

But he also noted that moves against cor­rup­tion were be­ing un­der­taken by coura­geous po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and pol­icy-mak­ers in many coun­tries, and that those lead­ers are en­cour­aged by pub­lic opin­ion. He sin­gled out for praise Liberia’s Ellen John­son-Sir­leaf, Africa’s first elected fe­male pres­i­dent, who seeks to fight cor­rup­tion and re­build her war-rav­aged coun­try.

Mr. Wol­fowitz also un­der­lined anti-cor­rup­tion ef­forts by Nuhu Ribadu, chair­man of Nige­ria’s Eco­nomic and Fi­nan­cial Crimes Com­mis­sion, and by Nige­rian Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Obi Ezek­we­sili aimed at im­prov­ing ac­count­abil­ity.

The work by Mr. Ribadu’s agency, Mr. Wol­fowitz said, “has al­ready led to the re­cov­ery of some $5 bil­lion in stolen as­sets from cor­rupt of­fi­cials and in­di­vid­u­als. And two of his staff have been mur­dered, prob­a­bly be­cause of the work they were do­ing.” Sup­port­ing re­form

“The peo­ple of Africa don’t want char­ity. What they want, and de­serve, is op­por­tu­nity,” said Mr. Wol­fowitz, a for­mer deputy sec­re­tary of de­fense for Pres­i­dent Bush.

But change on the world’s poor­est con­ti­nent has to be driven by its lead­ers and its peo­ple, Mr. Wol­fowitz stressed.

“For that rea­son,” he said, “the World Bank Group is com­mit­ted to sup­port­ing cham­pi­ons of re­form in both gov­ern­ment and civil so­ci­ety, in­clud­ing leg­is­la­tors, courts and a free press.”

Richard Kozul-Wright, se­nior econ­o­mist with the U.N. Con­fer­ence on Trade and De­vel­op­ment, said trans­parency ini­tia­tives to limit cor­rup­tion are com­mend­able. He said that cor­rup­tion is clearly a prob­lem, but that it is linked to un­der­de­vel­op­ment. Mr. KozulWright faulted the World Bank for us­ing the is­sue to de­flect at­ten­tion from other prob­lems, cit­ing what he called its failed struc­tural-adjustment and poverty-re­duc­tion poli­cies of the past 25 years.

A re­cent re­port by the In­ter­na­tional La­bor Or­ga­ni­za­tion (ILO) on global road trans­porta­tion prob­lems also high­lighted the ad­verse ef­fects of cor­rup­tion in Africa and other poor re­gions.

In West Africa, the re­port said, pro­fes­sional driv­ers are vul­ner­a­ble to ha­rass­ment, ex­tor­tion and bribery de­mands from cus­toms and other of­fi­cials, es­pe­cially when cross­ing borders. The prob­lem is en­demic in coun­tries such as Benin, Burk­ina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali and Togo, the ILO said.

Be­cause of such border trans­ac­tion is­sues, trans­porta­tion costs in many African coun­tries “are six times higher than in Pak­istan,” ac­cord­ing to ILO es­ti­mates.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions on trade fa­cil­i­ta­tion to en­hance trans­parency and stream­line cus­toms-clear­ance pro­ce­dures, au­thor­i­ties say, would help re­ducecor­rup­tio­nand­loss­esin­govern­ment rev­enues from du­ties.

How­ever, ef­forts by suc­ces­sive U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tions in the past decade, backed by the Euro­pean Union, to put this is­sue on the global trade agenda have failed to win the sup­port of many de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, which view the is­sue as not ripe for ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Mr. Wol­fowitz said strength­en­ing par­lia­men­tary in­sti­tu­tions in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries in or­der to hold of­fi­cials ac­count­able “is one of the most im­por­tant ways to make sure money goes where it’s sup­posed to go.” It is a ques­tion of not only cor­rup­tion, but also likely “in­ef­fi­ciency or ex­ces­sive bu­reau­cracy,” he said.

In re­spond­ing to ques­tions from law­mak­ers from some African coun­tries, he con­ceded that rich coun­tries also bear a greater-thanac­knowl­edged re­spon­si­bil­ity for cor­rup­tion in poor na­tions.

“For ev­ery bribe taker, there is at least one bribe giver. All too of­ten, those bribe givers are rich com­pa­nies from rich coun­tries,” he said.

Re­cent in­ter­na­tional ac­cords such as the U.N. Con­ven­tion against Cor­rup­tion, Mr. Wol­fowitz said, have helped usher in pos­i­tive changes on this front. He added that not so long ago, com­pa­nies in rich coun­tries “got tax ex­emp­tions for the bribes they paid in the de­vel­op­ing world.”

He told the par­lia­men­tary rep­re­sen­ta­tives that leg­is­la­tors also have a role to play in dis­cour­ag­ing as­set strip­ping by mak­ing it more dif­fi­cult for peo­ple to hide their ill­got­ten gains abroad. Ef­fec­tive laws against money laun­der­ing and bank­ing se­crecy should be en­acted, Mr. Wol­fowitz said.

Strength­en­ing the ca­pac­ity of par­lia­ments in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries also can be help­ful, he said, es­pe­cially if par­lia­men­tar­i­ans have good trained staff and in­for­ma­tion ser­vices.

“It’s not some­thing that you can force,” he con­ceded. Long road out of poverty

Pe­rus­ing global ef­forts in the past 25 years to raise liv­ing stan- dards world­wide, the World Bank chief noted that a half-bil­lion peo­ple have es­caped poverty, and that 400 mil­lion are ex­pected to do so in the next 10 years.

But Mr. Wol­fowitz ob­served that not ev­ery re­gion has ben­e­fited.

“One re­gion that has been mov­ing dan­ger­ously in the op­po­site di­rec­tion is sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa. Be­tween 1981 and 2002, the num­ber of peo­ple liv­ing in poverty in the sub-Sa­ha­ran coun­tries nearly dou­bled from more than 160 mil­lion to more than 300 mil­lion — roughly half the pop­u­la­tion of the sub­con­ti­nent.

“This is why the World Bank Group has made Africa our No. 1 pri­or­ity,” he added. “The needs of Africa are truly enor­mous.”

But aside from the prob­lem of cor­rup­tion, he said it is not a lack of po­ten­tial that holds Africa back, but crum­bling in­fra­struc­ture that bur­dens en­trepreneurs with higher costs, bu­reau­cratic red tape that hin­ders small busi­nesses from com­pet­ing in the global econ­omy and pro­tected mar­kets in rich coun­tries that deny poor farm­ers ac­cess.

Mr. Wol­fowitz said that more money alone will not solve th­ese prob­lems, but that more money is des­per­ately needed.

For the poor­est coun­tries in Africa, a key source of de­vel­op­ment fi­nanc­ing comes from the In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment As­so­ci­a­tion (IDA), the World Bank’s con­ces­sional lend­ing arm.

Last year, IDA sup­port to the poor­est coun­tries reached a record $9.5 bil­lion, with half of that go­ing to Africa, and a record $950 mil­lion of World Bank Group in­come has been com­mit­ted to help the poor­est coun­tries, he said.

Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

Kenyan chil­dren played at a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­ter for or­phans, home­less and abused chil­dren in Nairobi. World Bank Pres­i­dent Paul Wol­fowitz warned par­tic­i­pants at a global fo­rum in Geneva that ram­pant cor­rup­tion in poor African na­tions hin­ders ef­forts to com­bat poverty .

“The peo­ple of Africa don’t want char­ity. What they want, and de­serve, is op­por­tu­nity,” said World Bank Pres­i­dent Paul Wol­fowitz, who stressed that re­form has to be driven by African lead­ers and cit­i­zens.

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