Once again the World Bank has signed on to a high-risk project with questionable poverty-reduction potential.
Of course, reading the press release from the World Bank, you would never guess that this project could be anything less than wonderful:
WASHINGTON, March 27, 2012 – The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors today approved US$132 million in zero-interest financing for Cameroon’s Lom Pangar Hydropower Project (LPHP), to support the country’s economic development and significantly improve the supply of electricity to homes and businesses across Cameroon.
…And rightly so.
Yesterday I wrote that Ghana has been producing oil from its offshore Jubilee field since December 2010, yet still lacks monitoring vessels, equipment and personnel.
Something else that’s missing: funds to compensate fishing communities in the event of a spill.
This video recounts the fears of the residents of Abuesi, a small fishing community near Sekondi-Takorad (a.k.a. “Oil City”). Travel up and down the coast, and you’ll hear the same fears echoed again and again.
What will happen when a village that is entirely dependent on its fishing operations for its survival is shut down by an oil spill?
Over the past few weeks I’ve been scrutinizing documents on the safety and oversight of the Chad-Cameroon pipeline. As I wrote in an initial blog post, the ruptured ExxonMobil pipeline and subsequent oil spill in the Yellowstone River in Montana got me thinking about similarities with the ExxonMobil pipeline that crosses no fewer than 17 major rivers in Cameroon. I then wrote a follow-up post on pipeline oversight (or lack of).
So I was thrilled when I found out that Oxfam America was preparing a new report on the monitoring of controversial oil and gas projects featuring the Chad-Cameroon pipeline as one of its case studies. The report, Watching the Watchdogs, was launched yesterday in Washington, D.C. Among the speakers at yesterday’s panel were Jacques Gérin and Nadji Nelambaye who were both involved with monitoring the Chad-Cameroon pipeline.
News from the Task Force on Financial Integrity & Economic Development:
Last week, the World Bank unveiled a major initiative to make their funding more transparent. Through the new World Bank Finances portal, vast amounts of information about the inner workings of the Bank’s finances are now made easily accessible. This includes information about specific funds that members are supporting, and the disbursement and repayment status of thousands of projects around the world.
The World Bank has announced a significant funding package (US$ 53.3. million) intended to support Ghana’s fisheries. Among other things, the funding will support efforts to reduce illegal fishing off the coast of Ghana and to improve sustainable management of the country’s fisheries. This is important news for Ghana’s fishing communities.
Now that Ghana has become a middle-income country, the West African nation is taking stock of the many challenges it faces, including uneven development. Authorities are consulting with experts at home and abroad on how to ensure that oil revenues benefit all Ghanaians in a sustainable manner.
Below is an article from IRIN (UN). The flooding in Chad and elsewhere in the region has been getting far too little coverage in the Western media. Many areas in Chad and beyond are experiencing a level of rainfall and flooding that hasn’t been seen for 50 years. Chad has suffered through several years of drought and although the rains may provide relief in some places, flooding is wreaking havoc in many parts of the country. Villages and farms have been destroyed; flooded fields are particularly worrisome in Chad where hunger is already a problem.
The tragic irony: All the oil money in the world can’t prevent torrential rain and flooding, and given the likelihood that the floods are related to global climate change, oil may be in part to blame for the situation. The question now, however, is whether the government of Chad has — or will — use its oil revenues to improve the country’s infrastructure. Improved sanitation, roads and the construction of canals and dykes are critical moving forward.
WALIA, 17 November 2010 (IRIN) – Scores of families recently displaced by flooding in the Chadian capital N’djamena face a daily struggle against local thugs, wild animals, a lack of toilets and night winds that knock down makeshift tents.
The Chad government announced in late October that it would relocate thousands of people hit by flooding when the River Chari burst its banks, but any such move will take time; in the meantime families whose homes crumbled are just getting by – new hardships adding to what were already tough living conditions in their neighbourhood of Walia.
“We are exposed to too many dangers here,” said Obed Langkal, seated with other residents of the tents and makeshift shelters set up on a stretch of land between a main road and the river. “We cannot rest comfortably at all.”
Transparency International has released its 2010 Corruptions Index. Chad ranks among the ten most corrupt countries in the world. Cameroon has made some progress — just a few years ago the country was at the bottom of the ratings — but is still mired in corruption.
Corruption was a problem in both Chad and Cameroon before Exxon began drilling. Organizations opposed to the World Bank’s involvement in the project warned that rampant corruption would certainly impact any poverty alleviation plans. They were right, but the World Bank knew this, too…which brings us back to the Bank’s crackdown on corruption. You can stop doing business with companies that bribe officials, but as long as those officials operate in a culture of impunity you’re not reducing corruption.
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.
This is significant news from the World Bank so I’m posting the entire Guardian article below. I tend to agree with the author’s assessment: this is an important step in the right direction, but there’s a long, long way to go. I’m looking into non-compliance on aspects of the loan agreements with Chad and Cameroon that have not been effectively enforced. Avoiding obligations—with no apparent consequences—is not corruption. But it certainly doesn’t help advance the rule of law. And what better for corruption than a culture of impunity? I’ll be posting more about this soon.
Article by Larry Elliott, guardian.co.uk, October 8 2010
The World Bank’s latest anti-corruption initiative may sound a bit Bond, but it shows issues like fraud and bribery are being taken seriously. Photograph: Reuters
It will have 250 staff operating out of 150 countries and sounds like Ian Fleming dreamed it up. Yet the International Corruption Hunters Network (ICHN) is not something out of a James Bond novel, but the World Bank‘s latest initiative for stamping out bribery, fraud and the pilfering of money designed to alleviate poverty.
The idea is a good one. There are countless individual agencies around the world dedicated to stamping out financial crime: pooling their expertise should make it more difficult for the venal to get away with it. And not before time, since the taxpayers who last year provided the $70bn-plus spent by the World Bank in the field need to know that their money is not finding its way into numbered Swiss bank accounts or swelling the profits of unscrupulous companies.
I have produced a short film for PBS/Frontline World to mark the 10th anniversary of World Bank engagement in the Chad-Cameroon Oil Development and Pipeline Project. Cameroon: Pipeline to Prosperity? revisits the story of the “model” oil for development project. Ten years ago the oil companies and the World Bank promised that this project would break the resource curse and prove to the world that oil could be a force for good…
What has happened? Watch the film to see how Chad’s oil has impacted life along the pipeline in Cameroon.
Cameroon: Pipeline to Prosperity? is the first installment in my ongoing exploration of Africa’s booming oil industry, Pipe(line) Dreams. You can read more about the project on the website.
Please support my work on this project by viewing the film and leaving your feedback. It is crucial to show funders that this work matters!
The U.S. now imports more oil from Africa than from the Middle East, with oil accounting for more than 80% of all African imports into the country. African is soon expected to account for close to one quarter of U.S. oil consumption.
With Africa increasingly seen as the next frontier of oil exploration, there is no shortage of oil companies lining up for financing from the World Bank Group. Oil drilling has begun in Ghana with support from the World Bank Group; loans may soon be approved for Uganda. New oil has been found in Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria, Angola — even Sierra Leone. The list goes on, with government and corporate officials in each country promising to make oil work for the people.
But in countries lacking accountability, with weak legal systems and lax or nonexistent environmental regulation and enforcement, is oil really a viable development option? And is there a valid reason that public funds subsidize these projects? Both the U.S. and China depend heavily on African oil, yet we rarely see anything about how that oil dramatically transforms African communities, economies and environments. Pipe(line) Dreams, a timely and globally relevant story, will bring much needed attention to the rapidly expanding oil industry in Africa.
I haven’t posted anything in a while, as I’m in the midst of editing. I’ll post more material soon. In the meantime, here’s some news from the recent IMF staff mission to Chad (March 4-17):
“Economic activity remained sluggish in 2009, but inflation increased further, owing to food prices. Low rainfall, and therefore agricultural output, plus the trend decline in oil production led to a contraction in real GDP of about 2 percent. The bad harvest could imply food shortage for up to 2 million people (18 percent of the population). The need for additional food is estimated at between 80,000 to 100,000 metric tons, for which the government has requested external assistance.
“The global financial crisis affected Chad mainly through the ensuing decline in oil prices. The fiscal position deteriorated sharply in 2009 to a deficit of about 20 percent of non-oil GDP as the government maintained spending levels in the face of a fall-off in oil revenues by almost depleting its oil savings and borrowing from the central bank…Overspending on security and investment in 2009 absorbed an important part of the resources that had been lined up to finance the 2010 budget.”
Hardly looks good. Chad remains desperately poor, 18% of the population risks going hungry and the government can’t pay its bills. All this despite the benefits that oil brought to the country.
Money in, money out. I think this is what economists’ call the “resource curse”, you know, what wasn’t going to happen this time…
I’ve recently returned from Washington, D.C., where I was able to interview World Bank and other officials about the Chad-Cameroon Oil Development Project.
I’m now editing some video sequences and will post material soon.