Infrastructure funding is a massive component of international development—in 2014, the World Bank alone allocated $24 billion to infrastructure, amounting to roughly 40% of its total lending. Yet as has been widely documented (see here, here and here), infrastructure construction and development projects are particularly susceptible to corruption. Compared with other areas of development lending, such as education and public administration, large construction projects require more specialized contractors and consultants, increasing the points of access for corruption or collusion schemes. Furthermore, labor-intensive industries like construction are often captured by organized crime, which increases their susceptibility to corruption.
Corruption schemes in infrastructure projects often take the following form: a contractor pays government officials a bribe to secure a contract, and in an effort to preserve profits, the bribe-paying contractor compensates for the expense of the bribe by failing to build the project to specification. The supervision consultant—the person or entity responsible for evaluating whether the project has in fact been built to specifications—therefore plays a critical role in stopping or enabling infrastructure construction.
However, when the World Bank funds an infrastructure project, whether through a grant or a loan, the recipient country’s government is responsible for hiring the project’s contractors and consultants—including supervision consultants—subject only to arm’s length World Bank supervision. While this process is also subject to the World Bank’s procurement guidelines, these have been criticized as ineffective in addressing corruption (as previously discussed on this blog). Under the current system, if a project has not been adequately completed because of a corruption scheme, government officials have every incentive to retain inspectors willing to mask the abuse of funds. And if the Bank does discover fraud or corruption after the fact, its remedies are limited: the Bank can suspend or bar contractors from future contracts, and can refer matters to national prosecuting authorities, but successful convictions amount to fewer than 10% of sanctioned parties.
The World Bank must therefore prioritize prevention of these situations. Given the existing system, one measure that the World Bank could take to help prevent corruption in infrastructure projects, is to fund independent supervision consultants. Continue reading