Definitions of corruption

Station along the Chad-Cameroon pipeline. Photo by Christiane Badgley

Defining corruption is not as simple as one might think.  The Asian Development Bank (ADB) website provides some interesting information on the definitions of corruption: “As a shorthand definition, ADB defines corruption as ‘the abuse of public or private office for personal gain.’ A more comprehensive definition is as follows: ‘Corruption involves behavior on the part of officials in the public and private sectors, in which they improperly and unlawfully enrich themselves and/or those close to them, or induce others to do so, by misusing the position in which they are placed.'”

I recently posted an article about anti-corruption efforts at the World Bank. I found the article interesting and the efforts of the Bank worth noting. However the fight against corruption has to go a lot further than crackdowns on bribery to be effective. If the Bank really wants to fight corruption, it has to work towards a cultural shift, supporting capacity-building measures that can help countries move away from a culture of impunity and towards the rule of law.

Worse, at times it appears that the Bank plays a double role: crackdowns on bribery and fraud on one hand, enabling projects that reinforce the status quo on the other.

Look at the Chad-Cameroon oil development project. Chad reneged on its pledge to the World Bank to use oil revenues for poverty alleviation. But Bank officials will tell you that despite its problems the project has dramatically increased the revenues of Chad, adding that they continue to work with the Chadian government on revenue management.

Yes, but what does that mean?

Chad’s revenues went up dramatically because of the rising price of oil; the World Bank had nothing to do with this. Of course Bank officials say the project would not have gone ahead without World Bank participation, but this is perhaps a bit misleading. ExxonMobil wanted the Bank on board and one can argue that the Bank’s involvement was more important for Exxon than for Chad. After all, there were others, including the Chinese, who would have developed Chad’s oil without World Bank financing. Without the Bank, there may not have been an ExxonMobil-led project, but chances are good that Chad’s oil would have been developed nonetheless.

Certainly Bank financing has proven more beneficial to Exxon than to the people of Chad (false advertising?). The people of Chad are not doing better today by any measurable standards, but the government and the oil companies are doing quite well.

The World Bank is a large institution with many dedicated employees who believe in its mission. But as long as the Bank continues to finance projects that benefit multinational corporations more than the people on the ground, in countries lacking the capacity (or the will) to insure that project revenues are used to fight poverty, it’s hard to get too excited about bribery crackdowns. 

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