Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Corruption and croneyism

A conference was held on 9 December by the Tanzanian Government to map out new strategies to tackle corruption. The conference will engage the Tanzanian Government and the key donor countries who contribute 41% of the Government’s annual income.

President Jakaya Kikwete

The anti-graft watchdog Transparency International (TI) pulled out of Tanzania citing the government's reluctance to wage a vigorous campaign against corruption. This underlined growing international unease with the manner in which President Kikwete has allowed corruption to fester despite official rhetoric about his government's determination to eliminate it.

Donors' indictment of President Kikwete followed a series of questionable decisions in the past 12 months that have resulted in economic performance hitting the lowest point in a decade in spite of increased infusion of aid. The low point came when all hydroelectric power plants closed causing an 18-hour daily electricity rationing. The economy is literally on its knees after manufacturing ground to a halt thanks to irregular supply of power - now reduced to less than six hours per day, seven days a week.

The one-year-old Kikiwete administration intends to persuade the donors that it has what it takes to turn around the wobbly economy. The forum is set to discuss the revised National Anti-Corruption Strategy and Action Plans (Nacsap), which was dismissed by donors as weak and ambiguous. The conference is expected to set benchmarks upon which the future donor funding would be pegged.

At the local level, the School of St Jude operates in a society where corruption is common at all levels. The School is careful to monitor and measure the goods that are provided by all kinds of suppliers to ensure that they are not over-charging. The fees charged by local officials for services (visa renewal, postal deliveries) seem to be flexible acccording to the perceived ability to pay.

I guess that at the local level, this kind of petty graft is driven largely by the desperate poverty of most lives. But at the higher levels where national government contracts are handed to friends and family, the motives are more like power and greed. And given the bad smell that lingers around the US Bush administration’s connections with favoured companies like Haliburton, it is clear that this doesn’t just happen in the poorest countries.

I hope that Tanzania can make some substantive progress on reducing corruption. When incompetent friends are favoured in important deals (e.g. electricity supply) then the whole nation suffers. Suffering in the poorest countries is a desperate business of deprivation and death, not just the kind of deprivation in First World countries, where people with only one television can feel ‘poor’.

Meanwhile, The School of St Jude spends all donations directly on providing excellent education to the poorest children for free. And it takes steps to ensure that its funds are not eaten up by the croneyism and featherbedding of local suppliers and officials.

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