Corruption in many African countries has both active and passive effects according to a new report. African Development Indicators 2010, released by the World Bank March 15th 2010, suggests that the traditional focus in studies of corruption may not account for the full effects of the phenomenon.
These studies usually look at the exchange of money, bribes or favours between officials and other powerful actors. The report, however, highlights the effects of what it calls ‘quiet corruption’.
This kind of corruption focuses on the day-to-day practices of public officials, and the perception of public service delivery by citizens. Unprincipled practices such as health workers’ theft of drugs from clinics to sell for personal profit, the dilution of subsidised fertilisers by the agricultural industry to increase supplies before selling on the product, and the frequent absences of teacher and doctors are some examples of this detrimental trend. These lead to deteriorations in service provision and in a diminished perception of public officials and the system they represent.
While these ‘quieter’ practices are not reported in the headlines we see, they are perhaps more pervasive and do just as much damage to society as the more high-profile scandals we may hear about in the media. This insidious form of corruption contains both direct and indirect effects.
Direct effects include loss of production through poor health resulting from a lack of service delivery in the health care sector. Indirect effects may include students withdrawing from schools due to a lack of faith in the efficacy of education, and the subsequent shift of their resources towards home production or participation in the labour market.
The stakes are often highest, sadly, for the poorer members of the population – research shows that they are proportionately worst affected by these failings in frontline service delivery. The perception of the system of government service delivery suffers as a result of these failings, creating an idea in people’s minds that this is just ‘the way things are’.
Thus it can be seen how corruption and poor governance help to explain why continued funding allocations, for example through donors such as the World Bank and others, do not necessarily translate into improvements in conditions in countries where the money is ultimately spent.
The ‘routinisation’ of corruption as a phenomenon means that the acceptance of standards of professionalism is replaced by an attitude in which people feel they must ‘look out for themselves’ – thus a cycle is created in which a willingness to play by the rules becomes disincentivised.
In order to break the cycle of invisible corruption, the report makes a number of suggestions. Accountability and transparency are the key terms. Developing monitoring and enforcement frameworks which will allow for the safeguards to take hold depends largely on the nature of the contexts in which the malpractice occurs. Local action and leadership is needed within the sectors involved, whether they are health, education or business related. What is important is the communication of the idea to people that corruption is not inevitable, and an emphasis on building momentum for action at a personal level. It is to be hoped then that citizens will take providers to task and demand fairness in their dealings with officialdom.