(Professor Ensminger’s testimony is here.)
Caltech Professor Jean Ensminger will today tell a Congressional panel a depressing story of corruption in a World Bank project in Kenya. At a hearing on Bank accountability for its projects’ performance, she will document how money destined for the poorest of Kenya’s poor was siphoned off wholesale into the pockets of influential Kenyans and their cohorts. At the same time, she will describe how, thanks to vigorous, extensive prevention measures, a similar Bank program in Indonesia brought significant benefits to those in poor communities with minimal “leakage.”
As she explained in a 2014 interview, the research underlying her testimony is the result of fortuitous circumstances. A long-time student of the Orma, a semi-nomadic community found today in eastern Kenya, Dr. Ensminger was visiting the region shortly after several Orma villages had begun receiving funds from the World Bank’s Arid Lands Project. Arid Lands is a “community driven development” project, meaning one where monies are distributed directly to local communities for projects they consider priorities.
Her Orma friends recounted hair-raising tales of corruption in the project, prompting her to shift focus to the impact of corruption at the village level. She presented her initial findings to the Bank’s research staff, where to protect her sources she did not reveal sufficient details to identify the project. Bank staff determined on their own what the project was and opened an investigation.
In a brief interview before testifying Professor Ensimnger stressed that the point of her testimony is not that the Bank should refuse to fund community driven development projects. Rather it should, as was the case in the Indonesian project, provide sufficient oversight to ensure monies aren’t stolen. And that doesn’t come cheap. While Congressional budget cutters may try to use her testimony to justify sharply reducing U.S. funding for the Bank, the real message of her testimony is that the oversight necessary to curb corruption can’t be had at bargain basement prices.
Her testimony and those of the other witnesses will be broadcast live starting 10:00 AM, US East Coast time, here. Their written statements will likely be posted here at some point during or shortly after the hearing. (Full disclosure: while drafting an internal “lessons learned” paper on the Arid Lands project for the World Bank, I came to know and admire Professor Ensminger and her work.)