Raising the Volume on 'Quiet Corruption'


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Photo: Arne Hoel

In Uganda, teachers in public primary schools are absent 27 percent of the time. In Chad, less than one percent of the non-wage recurrent expenditures reaches primary health clinics.  In West Africa, about half the fertilizer is diluted before it reaches the farmer. 

These are some of the examples of “quiet corruption” that we document in this year’s Africa Development Indicators Essay.

The Essay received extensive coverage in the media (see, for example, here and here), and the idea seems to have struck a chord with many observers.  We also received exceptionally thoughtful comments from various discussants at seminars.

  • Philippe Montigny of CIAN initially questioned whether we could call these phenomena “corruption,” which was typically an action that someone does for money.  Here we are describing the absence of action for very little money.  He finally concluded that both represented deviations from an ethical, professional or judicial norm, so that the term corruption was justified.
  • Youssou N’Dour (who is referred to by Bono as “maybe the greatest singer on earth” in an article in Sunday’s New York Times) described the power relationships between poor citizens and government officials that lead to quiet corruption.  The citizen refers to the official as “chef’ and puts on his best suit when he goes to see him.  Although the citizen is paying the official’s salary through taxes, it’s always the state that is demanding something from the citizen.  And if the state fails to provide services, the citizen is too afraid to even write a letter of complaint.
  • At Chatham House, Joel Kibazo asked perhaps the most important question:  Now that we have diagnosed the problem, what can be done about quiet corruption?


My response is two-fold.  First, we can try to change incentives, so teachers and doctors will find it in their interest to show up for work.  In Rwanda, a program that pays doctors a bonus based on the number of children they immunize or the number of pregnant mothers they examine is leading to improved health outcomes. 

Furthermore, these outcomes can be linked to the “Results-Based Financing” scheme that introduced the bonuses. 

But this scheme depends on politicians being willing to change incentives (and, sometimes, reduce the rents accruing to absentee service providers).  What if politicians are not so willing?  Then one of the remaining options is to publicize the information on quiet corruption, so that the public can bring pressure to bear on the system for reform. 

This is why we chose to highlight quiet corruption in the Africa Development Indicators, a database of about 1,600 variables covering 53 African countries. Data can be a powerful tool to build consensus for reform, especially reforms that benefit poor people. 

To that end, the World Bank is today making all its databases available free of charge.

May these efforts raise the volume on quiet corruption loud enough to quash it.


Shanta Devarajan

Senior Director, DEC and Acting World Bank Group Chief Economist

Join the Conversation

ivo njosa
April 20, 2010

I am shocked about this article. You mean it is only now that donors are realizing this issue? This is nothing new to Africans. As a matter of fact, this report does not begin to scratch the surface. Sometimes one gets the feeling that donors know there is corruption but that it is limited to a few areas. No. no no.!!! Corruption exists in almost every faucet of African society. People are resigned to thinking that this is the norm. I am not sure if there is a political will to change this since public officials would have to limit themselves to their salaries. People join the government in developed countries as a service but public office is seen as the fastest way to get rich in many developing countries. As the everyday folks have understood how corrupt their leaders are, they too have decided to get their share. They are emboldened by the fact that the political leaders do not have the moral authority to stop it. It is even normal for these political leaders to give bribes or "encouragement fee" as they are called, to get some documents to move faster. This is not necessarily because they have to. But they have understood that, this is what it takes to move things faster when they control the issue. For instance, to get a passport faster, a high ranking official could send a note on his behalf to passport officials but with a little "thank you" token amount as well. Else, the little passport officials wonder why they are "eating" and he is not! Somehow, I really do not think donor countries understand how serious the issue of corruption is. If donors are serious about development or want the most for their money, they would limit their investments to only transparency and accountability. The rest would take care of itself. The real difference between developed and underdeveloped countries is accountability.

April 20, 2010

In order to agree that these data and video helps the efforts to fight corruption I would like to know how many corrupted people, inspectors, doctors, police officers had watched this video and data and ultimately changed their corrupted behaviours? I guess not at at all to many....What is done in order to change their mentality, attidues and corrupted bevhaviours ?
I guess not to much, unfortunately. This would encompass a long and difficult process of awarness and education. Also meanwhile changing the rules and law enforcement for everybody.

April 20, 2010

I am demanding to myself how possible to not have corruption in Africa, where the salaries reach, when lucky, 100 Euro per month. And I mean salaries paid in Nigeria where I have spent many years, where houses' rentals are so expensive that plenty people prefer to live into aluminium sheet baracks. In such a situation, how possible to avoid corruption, prostitution? I am a white man and I am talking about Western companies that before others act in this unusual way in Africa, because whether acted in their Countries they will go jail. All this, when at least you have a job, because when you don't have any job, when for months and perhaps years you are jobless, if you are a male, you practice at least robberies, if you are a female you exercise at least prostitution. At any level..... Many of my Company female workers, during the day, they work normally, during night exercise the oldest job of the world, prostitution. The policemen that brings at home at the end of each month the equivalent of 60, 70 euro, will prefere to not apply penalties or to close both eyes when there is any illegality. It's easy to say, in Africa there is corruption, if we don't deeply study the reasons of corruption. I think that colonialism never ended in Africa. The West before, and now China are frustrating that Continent and I don't see any change for the next or far future, because as I said really there is no goodwillness to solve that problem...........as we say in my Country it's preferable to speak well and badly to scratch The corruption doesn't involve only the layman, on top of corruption there is the politician, the Authority. After that remains only the landslide.

Ejiogu O. Emmanuel
April 20, 2010

Quiet corruption is responsible to a large extent for extreme poverty and slow pace of the attainment of the MDGs in many countires, particularly in Africa.

One of the effective tools that can be employed in tackling quiet corruption is the Citizens' Report Card, which we are championing in Nigeria.

According to different estimates, Nigeria has earned $500 billion from crude oil since political independence. In spite of its huge oil revenues, Nigeria remains the only OPEC member still ranked among the poorest countries in the world. Regrettably, recent figures show that 75% of Nigerians live below the poverty line. The root cause of poverty in Nigeria is largely traceable to Nigeria’s peculiar democracy without the people. A requirement, which is currently drastically missing in the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Nigeria is the lack of effective monitoring and assessment of outcomes at all levels of government, as well as the citizens’ inability to hold officials to account. In order to deepen and institutionalize genuine democracy, therefore, it is imperative to evolve a practical intervention designed to project citizens’ voice, ensure their participation in governance, as well as empower them to hold officials to account.

At the current rate of progress, most of Nigeria’s MDGs are unlikely to be achieved. This situation is largely traceable to the low level of citizens’ involvement in and oversight of government services. The same situation encourages Nigeria’s high level of endemic corruption and impunity. Corruption which is one of the major impediments to the actualization of the MDGs in Nigeria, has not only been a contributory factor to poor governance but is also the root cause of pervasive poverty.

The Citizens’ Report Card (CRC) Initiative represents a simple but powerful tool not only for generating feedback regarding the effectiveness of a variety of public services but also for projecting citizens’ voice, providing citizens’ feedback and inputs to Government regarding the quality of service delivery, as well as empowering citizens to demand accountability from state actors. This mechanism will equally serve to ameliorate the disconnect between officials and the citizens, as well as move the anti-corruption rhetoric to concrete action through citizens’ involvement in governance. From the outcomes of SEDFA’s pilot of the CRC in Nigeria (which was supported by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) in 2008) as well as from best international practices, SEDFA reconfirmed that an additional major cause of persistent poverty in Nigeria is the high level of endemic corruption which is largely traceable to the low level of citizens’ involvement in and oversight of state actors’ activities.

We are calling on all stakeholders across the world to support us (i.e. Self-Help Development Faciliators) in deepening and strengthening our implementation of the Citizens' Report Card in Nigeria as we seek to tackle quiet corruption as well as other forms of corruption in Nigeria. Please, contact us at [email protected] or call +2348038935955

April 22, 2010

As a concerned political leader this kind of information helps progressives like me to build our cases strongly.

George Amadi
April 21, 2010

The noble act of making data available on silent corruption makes it compelling for me to commend the World Bank for a job well done.
Over the years as journalist (NAN) and media consultant (UNECA) and Resource Person (AfDB), I have come to realise that, at least as far as Nigeria is concerned, the fight against corruption has not been easy because the accused almost always claim that they are being politically victimised!
But with the benefit of the World Bank's data base made available free of charge to all stake-holders in the vanguard of fighting crime, it would be difficult for a perpetrator of corruption caught red-handed now, thanks to unassailable facts and figures, to go scot-free!
The mood of young Nigerians, who are getting increasingly unhappy with silent corruption, will be one more notch upbeat now that they can access this data base!
The Halliburton bribe scam is an eloquent testimony that a more liberal data bank service will help a great deal towards bringing corrupt public official in Africa to book!
In no distant future, this singular action taken by the World Bank, in its bid to rid Africa of its endemic silent corruption,
will receive kudos from those who wish our developing continent well.
In my view, this data base sends a resoundingly loud message to Africans that the days, when silent corruption was tolerated, are indeed, over!
George Amadi, MD, George Amadi Media Consultants (Lagos, Nigeria)

April 21, 2010

Dear Africans,

Fraud is a culture Africans copied from Europeans and this culture can only be stamp-out by Europeans in conjunction with Africans. Europeans sub dued Africans in the early 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries and collected their resources. There are rich from Africans resources. It is the same line of principle that rich Africans are getting richer from poor Africans. The consequences of this fraud by Europeans is the volcanic ash and other eruptions that shall destroy their ecosystem in the coming years. French government is still defrauding central Africans and some french speaking Africans as at now keeping them more and more poor.

It is petty and regret.

Ilan Weichselbaum
April 21, 2010

The corruption is by the Donors including the World Bank, IMF,IFC,USaid,UKaid and many NGO's and UN agencies, that closing their eyes for what is going in Africa for decades.
To cry, but, not doing basic things to cut down the involvement of the Local and national Authorities, that their aim is to take a cut from everything that moves around.

Armand Hammer said: if you pay peanuts you get Monkeys.
If you pay such low salary to teachers, they need to find another job to bring food home. The same about Policemen, etc.

I suggest for long time, leave the Government and Local Government and go down to the local community, the family or Village level, there you will see that each donated manifest to of added value for improvement.

Diuto Onofeghara
April 21, 2010

I will like to know what strategies self help development facilitators intend to adopt in solving the problem of quiet corruption.It appears to require a widely perversive network of committed persons who can trust themselves. How do we we about getting these people-recommendations? from who? State security sevices? Prof. Onofeghara

Ejiogu O. Emmanuel
April 26, 2010

Unless and until the citizens are empowered with relevant information regarding quiet corruption as well as relevant tools, quiet corruption will continue to have a field day, particularly in Africa.

The time to act is now.

Frank Awani
April 22, 2010

I believe that the phenomenon of Quiet Corruption in Africa is a double edged sword because Africans generally, maybe Nigerians especially believe that they have to pay before they get anything. Paying for services, bribing the police and even paying huge sums for visas and travel arrangements. If your family member gets into an elected post, nobody will ask him how much is his official salary, but everybody will expect him to become a millionare, if he or she doesn't become one, then he will be cursed and despised by his own people. So what are we talking about, how is this person expected to get rich if not through corruption.
I am an association leader living in Europe and even here people are still willing to bribe hugely to get things done at the Nigerian embassies that are meant to serve them
We should look internally for the causes of our problems. It's very easy to blame others.
1. As long as people feel that they have to bribe to have things done, then we can only get as far because people are inherently corrupt.
2. In Africa there are no consequences for actions or inactions, how many people have been convicted for corruption in Africa.

I think that huge campaings telling people that they don't have to bribe before they recieve services is important. Also people should be told that they should challenge people that refuse to do their jobs or ask for bribe.

Furthermore, corrupt people, both those on the giving and recieving ends should be made to realise that they are commiting a criminal act and could be liable to improsonment and or fines.

As long as the African phsych is tendentially corrupt, all the well planned or aimed accronyms and projects will only meet with failure. Corrution seems to be inhenrent in our social and cultural fabric. The earlier we realise and get rid of it, the earlier things will be better for us.

George Amadi
April 22, 2010

It is only normal for man, an economical animal, to scale his needs based on priority. So to allow some animals squander resources belonging to all is unnatural. It is therefore, untenable for some animals to now label security agents, in the mould of the World Bank as example who blow the whistle on plunderer-animals, as villains and intruders. We, in developing countries, must focus on the plunderers in our midst and use all the data we can get toward putting them in jail. We do need a change of attitude from our present mindset which blames all our troubles on outsiders who try to help us.

April 30, 2010

Good Work Shanta. This finding teaches all of us to give attention also to quiet corruption which leades to poor human resource quality via its impact on education. This thing is also going on with doctors and with public service providers too.
Giving due attention to quiet corruption is essential to development. Thank you Shanta for bringing this idea to the forefront

Hudson Lucky Masheti
May 03, 2010

Public sector corruption is a system of failed governance at the country level. For programs to work, they must identify the type of corruption they are targeting and tackle the underlying, country specific causes or drivers and how to formulate a strategy of dysfunctional governance.

Corruption Forms;
Corruption is not manifested in one single form; indeed it typically takes at least three broad forms;
1. Petty administrative or bureaucratic Corruption; Many corrupt acts are isolated transactions by individual public officials who abuse their office, for example, by demanding bribes or kickbacks, diverting public funds or awarding favors in return for personal considerations.
2. Grand Corruption; The theft or misuse of vast amounts of public resources by state officials – usually members of or associated with, the political or administrative elite.
3. State Capture / Influence Peddling; Collusion by private actors with public officials or politicians for their mutual, private benefit. That is, the private sector “captures” the state legislature, executive and judicial apparatus for their own purposes.

Corruption Drivers;
Based on recent World Bank look at Guatemala, Kenya, Latvia, Pakistan, the Philippines and Tanzania – and the econometric studies of developing, transition and industrial countries, the key corruption drives identified by these studies include;-
o The legitimacy of the state as the guardian of the “public interest” is contested. There is little public acceptance of the notion that the role of the state is to rise above private interests to protect the broader public interest. “Clientelism” – public office holders focusing on serving particular client groups linked to them by ethnic, geographic or other ties – shapes the public landscape and creates conditions ripe for corruption.
o The rule of law is weakly embedded; public sector corruption thrives where laws apply to some but not to others and where enforcement of the law is often used as a device for furthering private interests rather than protecting the public interest.
o Institutions of accountability are ineffective; these institutions are either created by the state itself (for example, auditors-general, the judiciary, the legislature) or arise outside of formal state structures (for example, the news media and civic groups).
o The commitment of national leaders to combating corruption is weak; widespread corruption endures in the public sector when national authorities are either unwilling or unable to address it forcefully.

Strategic Formulation;
It is helpful to look at a model that divides developing countries into three broad categories – “High”, “Medium” and “Low” – the incidence of corruption

The model assumes that countries with;
o “High” corruptions have a “low” quality of governance.
o “Medium” corruptions have “fair” governance and.
o “Low” corruptions have “good” governance.

The model reveals that;
o Because corruption is itself a system of fundamental governance failure, the higher the incidence of corruption, the less an anti corruption strategy should include tactics that are narrowly targeted at corrupt behaviors and the more it should focus on the broad underlying features of the governance environment. In fact, in environments where governance is weak, anti corruption agencies are prone to being misused as tools of political victimization.
o In societies where the level of corruption lies somewhere in between the high and low cases, it may be advisable to attempt reforms that assume a modicum of governance capacity – such as trying to make civil servants more accountable for results, bringing government decision making closer to citizens through decentralization, simplifying administrative procedures and reducing discretion for simple government tasks eg. Licenses and permits distribution.

Best Practices Adoption;
1. In Rwanda, the “Results-Based Financing” program pays doctors a bonus based on the number of children they immunize or the number of pregnant mothers they examine is leading to improved health outcomes.
2. When Malaysia adopted a “Client’s Charter” in the early 1990s that specified service standards and citizens’ recourse in the event on noncompliance by government agencies, it helped reorient the public sector toward service delivery and transform the culture of governance.

A 2004 World Bank study of the ramifications of corruption for service delivery concludes that an improvement of one standard deviation in the International Country Risk Guide corruption Index leads to a 29 per cent decrease in infant mortality rates, a 52 per cent increase in satisfaction among recipients of public health care and a 30-60 per cent increase in public satisfaction stemming from improved road conditions.

Studies also show corruption hurts growth, impairs capital accumulation, and reduces the effectiveness of development aid and increases income inequality and poverty.

If corruption is about governance and governance is about the exercise of state power, then efforts to combat corruption demand strong local leadership and ownership if they are to be successful and sustainable.

Mr. Hudson Lucky Masheti
Kenya (East Africa)

Emmanuel Olufemi Akognon
May 08, 2010

The World Bank and the other powerful organizations and nations of the world contribute to the quiet corruption in Africa. The world Bank representing the most powerful nations in the world are still in the corruption trade. No NGO willing to get the work done is ever funded by the World Bank. The World Bank is really not interested in changing the corruption culture in Africa...they have aided and abetted it. We are not fools, most intellegent people from Africa who are seriously battling this quiet corruption know that the World Bank is not their friend!

Selsah Pasali
June 09, 2010

The World Bank advocates that strong leadership, good policies and sound institutions can address the problem of quiet corruption. I really want to believe in this but I simply cannot. Why? Well, policies or anti-corruption reforms are endogenous to institutions such as the legislation, the political parties, etc. More importantly, institutions are endogenous to the distribution of political, economic and social power in a society. So if you observe a problem in a given period of time in a given country, then please do accept that there is a good reason why that problem exists. This should help you become more humble when you propose a solution. Pessimism prevails because what the World Bank can do is very limited and the staff knows this very well... Neverthless, I am personally thankful for the intellectual debates they start.