& opinion

LAURENCE COCKCOFT, Chairman of Transparency International-UK

As recently as fifteen years ago, it was widely argued that corruption was an inevitable part of economic development, and that corruption in the developing world was a force that should be tolerated rather than resisted. In the last ten years, Transparency International has played an important role in reversing this view. It has done this partly by showing that much of the corruption which is pervasive in the developing world is driven from the north’. The ways in which this process occurs are complex, but reach deep into the daily lives of at least a billion inhabitants of very poor countries, as the following narrative illustrates.

Juma Ali is an unskilled labourer working on the building sites of Dar es salaam. At 5am he is wakened by the cry of ‘maji’ from ten-year-old boys touring the streets with large disused petrol drums full of water. By 5.15 his wife, Fatma, is standing in the street clutching the hundred shilling note and much smaller tin can she will need to bring two litres of water back to the ramshackle hut in which she tries to feed her five children, not one of whom is over twelve. She looks wistfully at the community water pump installed a year ago, and which ceased to pump within a month.

At 5.30, her bleary-eyed eldest daughter, Amina, just twelve, empties enough charcoal from a small gunny bag to begin to light a fire. By 6.00 Fatma has a pot with maize meal porridge nearly at boiling point on the charcoal fire. But there is not enough charcoal to bring the water to boil by the time Amina and Juma must leave the house to try and cram into one of the privatised buses which run a few hundred yards from their house. Packed with a hundred others into a space designed for fifty, they cling together, hoping to avoid having their pockets picked, or in Amina’s case, her bracelet ripped off.

By 7.00, they have arrived at Amina’s school, where her father hopes to beg for an interview with the headmistress to find out whether Amina can join the ten per cent of children who go to secondary school. He was supposed to be at work by 7.30, but believes that his employer - a building contractor employing 50 others - won’t notice his late arrival. In fact, the Headmistress keeps him waiting for an hour only to indicate that Amina might get a place in secondary school if he can provide the 20,000 shillings (£15) which she will need to pay the headmaster of the school in question. Despondent, he leaves by 9.00 only to reach the building site where he is working by 9.45 - his foreman notices his late arrival and says that he will recommend that he’s sacked if he doesn’t pay him 1000 shillings. Juma promises to pay him when he receives his 5000sh salary at the end of the month - thereby reducing the proportion not committed to repayment of existing debts to 3000sh.

He staggers through the rest of the working day, deciding to save the 50sh bus fare by walking the two miles to the edge of the city where his hut stands in a township of similarly precarious construction. When he arrives back at 6pm he sees a scene of desolation, as nearly every house in the square half mile in which he lives has been demolished. In tears his wife, children and neighbours relate the arrival of the demolition squad from the city council whose mayor has decreed that this village of illegitimate squatters’ must be demolished to make way for a ‘new development’. Whilst directing the bulldozers, the mayor’s representative has spoken of land elsewhere where people can be taken the next day by truck in return for a fee of 5000sh per family. Juma, who persuaded his wife to leave their village home two hundred miles away five years earlier, doesn’t know where to turn.

Each of these personal disasters has its roots in the forces of corruption. The first example surrounds water supply - the well and hand pump installed a year ago, intended to supply free water, is no longer in use because its construction was flawed as the technicians building it sold a key part to a builder. The supply of charcoal is too little because Juma’s family cannot afford to pay more than 100sh per bundle - a high price conditioned by the fact that the ‘charcoal burners’ who sold it to the traders who brought it to the city had to pay off the forestry officials who control the supply. The bus fare was exorbitant because the ticket touts were demanding more than the owner of the newly-privatised bus service would ever admit asking, because he had paid a bribe to win the rights for a service on that route. The Headmistress was in league with the secondary school Headmaster in the awarding of places, because the purchasing power of her salary had fallen three times in five years and she was now hardly able to feed her own children - unless propped up by ‘extra income.’

Finally, the mayor and his demolition team had been moved to destroy the squatters’ settlement because a junior Minister had recently purchased a nominal long-term lease over the area in question (which had previously been gazetted as communal land), and had paid $20,000 to the City mayor to demolish the housing in question. He had financed this partly from a loan of $500,000 from a newly installed international bank with which he intended to build housing suitable for middle class types, who would pay ‘key money’ up front. The international bank had moved into the country only this year as a result of its success in financing a ‘commodity offset’ deal involving the forward sale of gold in return for the purchase by the Ministry of Defence of a very sophisticated civilian and military radar system.

Is this an exaggeration? In December 1996 in Tanzania, Commission appointed by President Mkapa to investigate the ‘state of corruption’ described exactly these kinds of cases. Two extracts confirm this.

‘Corruption is demanded and given during the registration of children in schools; to enable pupils to pass examinations; to enable students to obtain placement in secondary schools and colleges, transfers and opportunities to repeat a class. Moreover, teachers give bribes in order to be promoted, to be transferred and to be given placements.’

‘Leaders who are supposed to take important national decisions are bribed by businessmen in order for them to take decisions which are in the interests of those businessmen...interfering in executive decisions like the allocation of plots in areas not permitted by law.’

Should this concern us as UK citizens? In December 2001, the UK Government gave the go ahead for the sale by BAE Systems to Tanzania of dual use’ civil and military radar system costing $30 million, which was financed by Barclays Bank at an interest rate below the market rate. Commenting on this at a meeting hosted by Transparency International- UK in April 2002 Clare Short, Secretary for International Development, said find it very difficult to believe that contract like that could have been made cleanly, although I have no information to that effect.’ In response Tony Blair’s office commented that ‘there no evidence to support this assessment’. But the fortunes of Juma Ali and his family have not been reversed.

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