Silent corruption causes huge losses

16 Mar 2010
The Citizen
A new form of corruption, which involves failure by public servants to deliver services or inputs paid for by the government, is hurting Africa, a new World Bank report says.

According to the Africa Development Indicators (ADI) 2010 report, problem of public servants failing to deliver goods or services paid for by governments is pervasive and widespread across Africa, including Tanzania. And it's having an adverse effect, especially on the poor, with long-term consequences for development.

In devising the annual report, the World Bank shifted from its traditional focus on corruption based on the payment of bribes to powerful political personalities or kickbacks to public officials and instead focused on the way this "quiet corruption" distorts the public service delivery system.

According to the report, which was made available to The Citizen in Dar es Salaam yesterday, "quiet corruption, although smaller in monetary terms, is particularly harmful to the poor, who are more vulnerable and more reliant on government services and public systems to satisfy their most basic needs".

This year's ADI report had a special focus on "quiet corruption" and measured the effect of what happens when public servants fail to deliver services or inputs that have been paid for by the government.

The term "quiet corruption" represents various types of malpractices of frontline service providers - teachers, doctors, inspectors and other government representatives - but does not involve monetary exchange.

The most common examples cited in the latest WB report on social and economic conditions across the continent are absentee teachers in public schools and absentee doctors in primary health clinics.

Others include drugs being stolen from public health facilities and sold in the private market as well as subsidised fertiliser being diluted before it reaches farmers.

According to the report, findings indicate that primary schoolteachers in a number of African countries, including Tanzania abscond from their stations for 15 to 25 per cent of the time, but, in addition, a considerable fraction of those in school are not found teaching.

"These behaviours, include both potentially observable deviations, such as absenteeism, but also hard to observe deviations from expected conduct, such as a lower level of effort than expected or the deliberate bending of rules for personal advantage," reads part of the report.

The report also features data and research on "quiet corruption" in the health, education, and agricultural sectors, which has been has been collected for the last decade.

One of the biggest manifestations of "quiet corruption" in Africa is the low level of teacher effort. This has been confirmed by a Unicef survey of 14 developing countries conducted in 1995, which reported high levels of headteachers' absenteeism.

Among the countries surveyed, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia showed that teachers were absent at least two or more days in a week.

A 2004 report found that 20 per cent of teachers in rural western Kenya primary schools could not be found during school hours, while in Uganda, two surveys found teacher absentee rates of 27 per cent in 2002 and 20 per cent in 2007.

The WB report also cites high absence rates of health-care workers, with a number of studies suggesting that quality and effort on the job are very low.

It draws examples from studies carried out in India, Indonesia, Mexico, Paraguay, and Tanzania, which provide a disturbing picture of doctor competence and a low level of the service provider's effort.

In Tanzania, the report found that health provider competence is considerably poor, notably in the rural areas.

"The gap between what providers know and what they do, that is, provider effort, is particularly worse in government facilities," the report says.

Illustrating the magnitude of the consequences of "quiet corruption", the report highlights the reason for low fertiliser usage among African farmers and the poor quality of what is available on the market.

It says poor controls at the producer and wholesaler levels resulted in 43 per cent of the analysed fertilisers sold in West Africa in the 1990s lacking the expected nutrients, meaning that they were basically ineffective.

A survey of malaria deaths in rural Tanzania established that nearly four out of the five children, who died, had sought treatment in hospitals.

It says the absence of diagnostic equipment, drug thefts, provider absenteeism and very low level of diagnostic effort are some of the manifestations of "quiet corruption" that have contributed to deaths.

"Quiet corruption does not make the headlines the way bribery scandals do, but it is just as corrosive to societies," said Dr Shanta Devarajan, the 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 WB report has focused on "quiet corruption" in this year's ADI to serve as a tool for Africans to hold their governments accountable.

A survey of Uganda's health care providers, found a 37 per cent absenteeism rate in 2002 and 33 per cent 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 who receive diluted fertilisers may choose to stop using them altogether, leaving them in low-productivity agriculture," the report says.

The report also carries economic indicators 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 will begin a wider debate and hasten the push for solutions.

The development indicators study 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 countries on the continent.

It also introduces new survey tools such as the Public Expenditure Tracking Survey (PETS) and Quantitative Service Delivery System, which have enabled researchers to track resources and monitor the attendance of frontline providers.

These results have improved the understanding of a broad range of misconduct and contributed to reshaping the policy debate about corruption.

According to the report, sub-Saharan Africa, with slightly over 819 million people in 47 countries, continues to present the world with its most formidable development challenge.