The Persistence of Phony Statistics in Anticorruption Discourse

Early last month, UN Secretary General António Guterres delivered some brief opening remarks to the Security Council at a meeting on the relationship between corruption and conflict. In these remarks, Secretary General Guterres cited a couple of statistics about the economic costs of corruption: an estimate, attributed to the World Economic Forum (WEF), that the global cost of corruption is $2.6 trillion (or 5% of global GDP), as well as another estimate, attributed to the World Bank, that individuals and businesses cumulatively pay over $1 trillion in bribes each year. And last week, in her opening remarks at the International Anti-Corruption Conference, former Transparency International chair Huguette Labelle repeated these same figures.

Those statistics, as I’ve explained in prior posts (see here and here) are bogus. I realize that Secretary General Guterres’ invocation of those numbers shouldn’t bother me so much, since these figures had no substantive importance in his speech, and the speech itself was just the usual collection of platitudes and bromides about how corruption is bad, how the international community needs to do more to fight it, that the UN is a key player in the global effort against corruption, blah blah blah. Ditto for Ms. Labelle–her speech used these numbers kind of like a rhetorical garnish, to underscore the point that corruption is widespread and harmful, a point with which I very much agree. But just on principle, I feel like it’s important to set the right tone for evidence-based policymaking by eschewing impressive-sounding numbers that do not stand up to even mild scrutiny. Just to recap: Continue reading

Do Chinese Aid Projects in Africa Make Corruption Worse? And If So, Why?

Development aid is a potentially powerful tool for promoting economic growth among the world’s poor. However, development aid is plagued by corruption, in no small part because many of the poorest areas are also the most susceptible to corruption. In addition to that dilemma, some research suggests that the injection of outside funds into existing corrupt societies can actually exacerbate governance problems. Is this true? And does the impact of development aid on corruption (and development) depend on the source of the aid? An important new paper by Ann-Sofie Isaksson and Andreas Kotsadam suggests that the answers are yes and yes—in particular, they find that Chinese aid projects in Africa may worsen local corruption.

To investigate the question whether Chinese aid projects affect local corruption in Africa, the authors combine data from separate sources. For data on local corruption, the authors make use of the Afrobarometer surveys, with data on nearly 100,000 respondents in 29 countries, collected over a 12 year period (2000-2012) in four separate surveys. The authors focus in particular on respondents’ answer to questions about the frequency of paying bribes to avoid problems with the police or to obtain documents or permits. The authors use the geographic location of survey respondents, together with information on the geographic location of 227 Chinese-aid-supported projects in Africa, in order to identify those respondents who live geographically close to a project supported by Chinese development aid. The results are stark: African citizens who live in areas with Chinese-sponsored projects are 4 percentage points more likely to pay a bribe to police, and 2 percentage points more likely to pay a bribe for permits or documents. Given baseline reported bribery rates of about 13-14%, this means that citizens living near a Chinese aid project are about 30% more likely to report paying a bribe to the police, and about 15% more likely to report paying a bribe for a permit or document.

The most natural explanation is that Chinese aid projects tend to stimulate more corruption. There are, of course, a number of other possible explanations, which the authors address and for the most part rule out, or at least suggest are unlikely:

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Beneficial Ownership Disclosure by Multilateral Development Banks

Joseph Kraus at The ONE Campaign recently summarized for GAB readers  measures governments are taking to require companies registered in their territory to reveal the natural person or persons who own and control them, their beneficial owners.  A parallel effort has begun to persuade the international development banks – the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development – to reveal the beneficial owners of the companies “their monies” (read taxpayer monies) fund.  In May 2017, the U.S. Congress ordered the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury to see that each bank: –

“collects, verifies, and publishes, to the maximum extent practicable, beneficial ownership information … for any corporation or limited liability company, other than a publicly listed company, that receives funds from [it].”  Division J, section 2079(f) of the  Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017.

As the U.S. is a significant funder of each bank, an American serves on the board of each.  In the 2017 law, Congress directed the Treasury Secretary, to whom the American board members answer, “to instruct” each to urge its bank to comply with Congress’ wish on beneficial ownership.  It also required the Secretary to report on how the successful the American board member had been in persuading the other board members and the management of their bank to gather and reveal beneficial ownership information.

The Secretary’s report contains several surprises on which banks took the U.S. effort on beneficial ownership seriously and which ones blew it off.  With the banks that ignored the U.S. effort, it leaves unanswered an interesting question: What if anything did board members representing other countries committed to the disclosure of beneficial ownership do to push the issue?

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Curbing Corruption in Development Projects: Memo for the World Bank Board of Governors

The wAnnual meetingsorld’s finance ministers serve as the governors of the World Bank and meet this weekend to review the Bank’s activities over the last year and set policy for the coming one.  The annual meeting is the first since the OECD released a remarkable document, one that subtly but unmistakably  damns the development community for failing to curb corruption in the projects it finances. In skillfully-crafted prose that points the finger at no one miscreant while charging all with dereliction of duty, the OECD’s Council for Development identifies weaknesses large and small in the corruption prevention efforts of both bilateral and multilateral development organizations and urges major reforms.  Corruption in development projects not only defeats the reason development aid is provided but, as the council stresses, many times leaves the recipient worse off than had no aid been extended in the first place.

The Bank’s Board of Governors should make the report and its recommendations the focus of their meeting. For two reasons. Continue reading

Model Language for an Anticorruption Citizen Suit Provision in Community Development Agreements

Community Development Agreements (CDAs) are contracts between extractive companies and the local communities that reside near their operations. The contracts are designed to funnel some of the financial and non-financial benefits of the project to those who are most likely to be negatively impacted by their inherent destructiveness. Some developing states require CDAs from extractive companies as a precondition for granting permits, and the World Bank publishes model regulations for CDAs—recommendations that hold significant sway for many developing states. The World Bank’s model regulations are often referenced, or adopted wholesale, by countries with capacity constraints.

The World Bank model CDA, and many of the existing national laws which govern CDAs, include required, substantive terms such as monitoring components, dispute resolution systems, etc. However, CDAs have not traditionally included provisions that might allow the contracts to be operationalized in the anticorruption fight. Building on the work of Abiola Makinwa and James Gathii, I have argued that CDAs should include anticorruption clauses that would give recognized community members the right to sue as third party beneficiaries in the case of corruption, and that the World Bank should amend its model CDA to include a third party beneficiary cause of action for corruption in the making or execution of a CDA.

While my previous post advocated for this reform in general terms, my objective here is to suggest specific language that the World Bank should incorporate into its model regulations. These provisions derive in part from recommendations of the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment’s (CCSI) analysis of Emerging Practices in Community Development Agreements and transform the CDA into an anticorruption tool. The recommended provisions are as follows:

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A Sad Tale of Corruption in a World Bank Project –UPDATE

(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.)

Why the Repeal of the U.S. Publish-What-You-Pay Rule Is a Major Setback for Combating Corruption in the Extractive Sector

Bonnie J. Palifka, Assistant Professor of Economics at Mexico’s Tecnológico de Monterrey (ITESM) contributes today’s guest post:

Last Friday, following the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate voted to repeal a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulation that required oil, gas, and minerals companies to make public (on interactive websites) their payments to foreign governments, including taxes, royalties, and “other” payments. The rule was mandated by Section 1504 of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, but had only been finalized last year. President Trump’s expected signature of the congressional resolution repealing the rule will represent a major blow to anticorruption efforts, and a demonstration of just how little corruption matters to his administration and to Congressional Republicans.

The extractive industry had lobbied against this rule, arguing that having to report such payments is costly to firms and puts them at an international disadvantage. Some commentators have supported their efforts, arguing, for example, that the Section 1504 rules are unnecessary because the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) already prohibits firms under SEC jurisdiction—including extractive industry firms—from paying bribes abroad. This argument misses the mark: The extractive sector poses especially acute and distinctive corruption risks, which the FCPA alone is unlikely to remedy if not accompanied by greater transparency. Continue reading