Controlling Corruption

Corruption in the procurement, construction and maintenance of roads is probably the greatest obstacle to the development of an adequate and safe road network in the developing countries of sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia. On the whole, absence of suitable technology or sufficient funding is not the main cause of inadequate development. The primary problem is simple theft, on a grand scale. While there is significant corruption in the road sector in developed countries, the impact of corruption in developing countries is considerably more damaging given the poverty of the citizens and the lack of adequate infrastructure.

Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index rates the infrastructure sector as the most corrupt worldwide, in terms of bribery, ahead of the defence and oil and gas sectors. The World Bank estimates that US$1.5 trillion is lost to bribery per annum. A large proportion of such loss will relate to the infrastructure sector and, therefore, to the road sector. However, bribery is only one part of the picture. The losses caused by corruption as a whole are even greater when one adds to the cost of bribery the respective costs of extortion and fraud in the road sector.

Funds intended for road development are diverted, by a combination of bribery, extortion and fraud, into the pockets of corrupt government officials, bankers, and international and domestic contractors, consultants, sub-contractors, suppliers and their respective agents. The methods of such diversion range from the relatively simple to the highly sophisticated. Money provided for roads may be simply stolen by deceptive accounting. New roads may be planned or re-routed for corrupt purposes. Large bribes may be demanded or offered for contract award, resulting in an equivalent inflation of the project price. Complex, fraudulent claims may be submitted by project owners, contractors or consultants on the basis of fabricated records and evidence. Illegal withholding of payment by project owners or provision of sub-standard workmanship and materials by contractors may be used deliberately to increase profits. Corrupt certifiers may be bribed by contractors to approve sub-quality work or they may extort money from contractors before certifying payments due to them. The consequences are that taxpayers' money is wasted on roads that have no community benefit, there is extortionate over-pricing of road projects, defective roads are built which break up and become a danger to their users, and, in such an environment, there is little money or desire to repair such roads or to provide badly-needed roads to certain parts of the community. Repairs and maintenance will either never be carried out or, with the award of the maintenance or repair contract, a new cycle of corruption will begin so perpetuating the misappropriation of funds and the carrying out of defective work. (How does corruption occur on road projects?)

In many cases, there are honest government officials, contractors and consultants who do not wish to participate in corruption. Government officials may have bribes proffered to them by unscrupulous contractors. If such officials are poorly paid, the offer of lucrative bribes will be hard to resist. Ethical contractors and consultants may be presented with demands for bribes. If they do not pay them, they may be excluded from the tender process or, if awarded the contract, they may be unable to obtain approvals and payments during the project. They are then faced with the choice of either succumbing to corruption in order to win contracts or obtain payments which are due to them, or withdrawing from the project and incurring substantial losses. Inflated claims may similarly be prompted by illicit withholding of money by the project owner. Sometimes ethical contractors and consultants are uncertain whether they can rely on the integrity of their joint venture partners, sub-contractors or employees not to offer bribes. Sometimes, they may feel compelled to withdraw from certain countries altogether because the environment is such that it is impossible to operate without resorting to corruption. The injustice to such contractors and consultants is compounded by the fact that there are still a large number of contractors and consultants who are happy to work in a corrupt environment and so simply step in to replace the ethical contractors and consultants who have withdrawn. Thus corruption in the road sector is damaging not only to the citizens of a country but also to the industry itself. It prejudices those contractors and consultants who wish to operate with integrity.

In order to combat corruption effectively, it is necessary to understand what it is, why it is so prevalent, and how it can occur on road projects. (How does corruption occur on road projects?) It is impossible to estimate the degree to which corruption occurs in the road sector in any country or to predict precisely how corruption might occur. It may, however, be reasonable to assume that, in a country where corruption is widespread, no road project or very few road projects will remain unaffected by it. Some form of bribery, extortion or fraud will occur at one or more phases of these projects. Even in those countries where corruption may be less prevalent, there is a strong likelihood of corruption in road projects. This is because road projects are, as with other infrastructure projects, vulnerable to corruption - both in developing and developed countries. (Why is there corruption on road projects?)

Given the high probability that there will be corruption in road projects, such projects should be approached with the expectation that corruption will occur. There should be an onus on those government departments responsible for these projects and on financing and aid organisations responsible for funding them to ensure that sufficient steps are taken, from the outset of these projects, to prevent, detect and penalise corruption. In particular, funding organisations and aid agencies should require the implementation of anti-corruption systems on projects as a condition of lending or of the provision of aid. There should be no political embarrassment in insisting on such steps. It is an ethical necessity. It is something that would be welcomed by the citizens of developing countries who are all too aware of the damage being done to their countries by unchecked corruption. Just as standards are set for quality and safety management, so it is equally important, for the good of the local community, to set standards for anti-corruption management. (Prevention of corruption on road projects)

Roads are the arteries of a nation's economy. Without a good road network, little can be done to develop trade, industry and tourism, to provide health and education, to provide services such as water and electricity, and to distribute aid, such as famine relief. Thus, in preventing the establishment of a proper road network, corruption blocks the development of a nation. If the developing countries of sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia are to prosper, it is critical that corruption in the road sector is, if not eradicated, then at least significantly reduced.

Catherine Stansbury, Global Infrastructure Anti-Corruption Centre