Why is fighting Corruption in Africa failing?

africa-corruption-survey-20131113.jpgPhoto from Africa corruption survey 2013

Corruption is an endemic cancer that knows no boundaries; both developed and developing countries constantly grapple with ways to stem it. Its cure has remained elusive and as a result billions of dollars of tax payers’ money world-wide disappear into thin air ever so often with no convincing answers provided to the citizens to explain the phenomenon.

 In most African states, no government has been able to successfully fight corruption or reduce it to significant levels compared to our Western counterparts. Instead, corruption has persisted and even prospered mainly in the public service sector.

So what really is the problem in Africa with regard to corruption? I am certain that there is a plethora of reasons to explain why mother Africa has been unable to lift herself from this miry clay despite the cancerous effects. However, lack of efficient systems and transparency in the public sector are leading factors encouraging or promoting the culture of corruption among its citizens.

Efficient systems and transparency bring about accountability in delivery of services in the public sector. In the absence of these, employees are at liberty to conduct activities as they wish; including asking for bribes to carry out their delegated duties and responsibilities.

Take the example of the tender process of government institutions. The systems are not well established and there is little transparency involved. In most developed countries, competition for government tenders is based purely on the quality of work or services the bidder is proposing against the cost of the tender which is actually published in the public domain. This practice is contrary to how bids are evaluated in many African states. Here, competition among bidders is based first on cost – the lowest bidder often times is the best bidder – regardless of the quality of services proposed by bidder.

This process creates an opportunity for exploitation by employees and business people alike that could have been avoided by having in a place an effective and transparent tender process. Desperate to win tenders, bidders approach public service employees to obtain inside information about the cost of the tender so that they can match their proposals to it. The reverse is also true where employees solicit bribes from bidders in order to disclose inside information that would help them win.

African states have been failing on the war on corruption because of addressing the outcome of corruption instead of addressing the root cause of it. For instance, by arresting and persecuting business people and public service employees who are found to have colluded and engaged in corrupt dealings to win government tenders, the issue of corruption is hardly addressed. As long as effective systems are not installed and transparency enshrined as the norm in government institutions, corruption will persist. Replacing one corrupt public service employee for another without addressing the issue of systems and transparency does not amount to much in the war against corruption. The corruption cycle continues and citizens continue losing public funds through the lack of effective systems.

Fighting corruption requires governments to take deliberate and precise actions that address the issue at the source. It is not enough to deal with the outcome of corruption. More needs to be done to increase accountability in the public service sector. Even whistle blowing systems do not serve to address the issue of corruption. Granted, they bring to attention the occurrence of corrupt dealings in an institution, but they do not establish or address the cause of it. Efforts should be geared towards researching and building the capacity of institutions to combat corruption. Addressing the outcome of corruption as a stand- alone solution for ending corruption will not yield results. Building capacity of institutions to close gaps and loop holes by enabling them install effective systems that call for accountability must be part of the solution.

I reckon that one of the reasons governments are inclined to address the outcome of corruption instead of the source of it is because citizens themselves actually call for it. By calling for corrupt public service officials to step down or be sacked, they influence governments’ priorities. If citizens demanded more from their governments such as installation of effective systems, they can influence their governments’ priorities and play an active role in ending corruption. Additionally the relationships between  governments and business sector has more often resulted in infringement of human rights.

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