Authors: Ousmane Diagana and Mouhamadou Diagne*
Every day, we hear about the onslaught of crises facing the world—from climate change to conflict, inflation and debt, and the ongoing recovery from a years-long pandemic. Add to them the prospect of slow economic growth, and our efforts to overcome these challenges seem rife with obstacles. For developing countries, many with limited and already stretched resources, the confluence of crises will be especially difficult to navigate.
But if we are to achieve success over the challenges of our time, there is one scourge we cannot fail to confront: corruption.
The unfortunate truth is that corruption persists in all countries. It manifests in many ways—from petty bribes and kickbacks to grand theft of public resources. With advances in technology, corruption has increasingly become a transnational challenge without respect for borders, as money can now move more easily in and out of countries to hide illicit gains.
Corruption is also a fundamental problem for development.
Corruption harms the poor and vulnerable the most, increasing costs and reducing access to basic services, such as health, education, social programs, and even justice. It exacerbates inequality and reduces private sector investment to the detriment of markets, job opportunities, and economies. Corruption can also undermine a country’s response to emergencies, leading to unnecessary suffering and, at worst, death. Over time, corruption can undermine the trust and confidence that citizens have for their leaders and institutions, creating social friction and in some contexts increasing the risk of fragility, conflict, and violence.
To prevent these negative impacts, we must confront corruption with determined and deliberate action. For the World Bank Group, fighting corruption in development has been a long-standing commitment in our operational work. This commitment is reflected in our support for countries in building transparent, inclusive, and accountable institutions, but also through initiatives that go beyond developing countries to also include financial centers, take on the politics of corruption more openly than before, and harness new technologies to understand, address, and prevent corruption.
Indeed, across western and central Africa in particular, it is one of the World Bank Group’s strategic priorities to emphasize issues of good governance, accountability, and transparency among our partner countries, with the aim of reducing corruption. We recognize that transparency in public affairs and the accountability of high-level officials are fundamental to the trust of citizens in their government and the effective delivery of public services. Working to rebuild and bolster trust between citizens and the state is critical today, especially in countries affected by fragility, conflict and violence that make up half of the countries in this region alone.
Across Africa, World Bank Group support is helping countries face these challenges. Recent investments in the Republic of Congo, Ghana, and Morocco, for example, will support institutional governance reforms to improve the performance and transparency of service delivery. In Kenya, our support will further fiscal management reforms for greater transparency in public procurement, thereby reducing opportunities for corruption. Strengthening citizen-state engagement is key: In Burkina Faso, for example, a World Bank-funded project helped the national government improve citizen engagement and public sector accountability through the development of a digital tool to monitor the performance of municipal service delivery.
The World Bank Group’s commitment to fighting corruption is also reflected in robust mechanisms across the institution that enhance the integrity of our operations. Our independent Integrity Vice Presidency (INT) works to detect, deter, and prevent fraud and corruption involving World Bank Group funds. Over two decades of INT’s work, the World Bank has sanctioned more than 1,100 firms and individuals, often imposing debarments that make them ineligible to participate in the projects and operations we finance. In addition, we have enforced more than 640 cross-debarments from other multilateral development banks, standing with our MDB partners to help keep corruption out of development projects everywhere. Nevertheless, we must remain vigilant to the risks of fraud and corruption that remain.
The World Bank Group also leverages its position as global convener to support anticorruption actors at all levels and from around the world. That is why we are pleased to have organized the next edition of the World Bank Group’s International Corruption Hunters Alliance (ICHA) to take place in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, on June 14-16, 2023.
The ICHA forum is an opportunity for front-line practitioners committed to fighting corruption as well as policy makers and representatives from the private sector and civil society, to come together to share knowledge, experience, and insights for confronting corruption. For the first time since its inception in 2010, we are hosting the ICHA forum in an African country. This reflects the reality that the negative impacts of corruption can be more devastating for developing countries, who face unique challenges and have fewer resources to overcome them. Yet, it also acknowledges that there is a wealth of anticorruption strengths, skills, and expertise from these countries that we must draw upon.
Together, we can affirm that through our collective action, we can advance the fight against corruption even in an era of crises.
*Mouhamadou Diagne, World Bank Vice President for Integrity.
First published in French in La Tribune Afrique, via World Bank