Circles of Corruption: how does Africa stack up against the OECD?

Inside & Outside the Circles of Corruption

By Peter O’Brien, Pr1merio chief Economics & Trade advisor.

Many widely quoted assessments of corruption rank African countries poorly. These ratings are based mainly on indicators related to the ways in which business contracts, especially those involving government funds, are concluded. The suggestion is that resources are wasted due to mechanisms which award deals to groups that, in open and transparent systems, would not have qualified to obtain the contracts. While there is undoubtedly a very real problem, it’s important for Africa’s standing in the business world to understand the actual situation.

For comparison’s sake…

During the present decade, the avalanche of detailed information concerning corruption in OECD countries, and in particular Western Europe and the USA, has been enormous. A central feature of the stories uncovered has been the failure of administrative systems in those places – and a strongly associated feature has been the failure to resolve the problems. Some examples, drawn not from the financial sector (where the cases are so numerous that to describe them is now superfluous) but from industrial activities and projects, will illustrate the point.

Since mid-2015, and growing by the week, the question of environmental pollution caused by faking the results of admissions tests on diesel driven vehicles has rocked the automotive industry. What began as an investigation into Volkswagen has extended to several other global manufacturers. The investigations so far have underlined several things. First, companies themselves have broken their own ethical codes in order to secure some competitive advantage. Second, there clearly exists an unhealthy, cosy relationship between the auto firms and the entities that are supposed to test and certify vehicles as compliant with regulations. Third, the power of organized corporate lobbies has been sufficient to delay remedial action, and in the case of the EU promises to postpone it indefinitely. Fourth, industry elaborated codes of conduct rarely work. Fifth, financial penalties alone are unlikely to alter the structures of corruption.

In Germany, the finalization of the construction of the new airport for Berlin in now several years overdue. The delays, and the additional costs (reported to be above €5 million per day), have been variously attributed to weak negotiation and formulation of the initial contracts, inadequate monitoring mechanisms, collusion among constructors and suppliers, and straight kick-backs to several officials involved. In the UK, the award of government contracts to a company, G4S, to provide security services for the 2012 London Olympics, was found by parliamentary investigation to be grossly negligent. But subsequent to those findings, the same company has been given several other contracts, some of which are currently under new investigations.

Where does Africa stand?

Kofi AnnanSo where does Africa really figure in an imperfect world where corruption and fraud have since time immemorial been part of transactions wherever they take place? The response should probably be along the following lines.

To begin with, African firms, in the sense of companies created and driven by African indigenous capital, till now have very limited capacity to organize the large scale, multi-country manipulations found in the OECD. Put differently, African entities, private and public, are almost certainly far more reactors than primary actors in the game. This generalization applies equally to involvement in the scandals rocking so many of the self -created and self- perpetuating bodies purporting to govern many types of world sport. In soccer and in athletics, some African individuals and entities have hopped on to the gravy train – but the drivers are elsewhere. In other notoriously corrupt fields, such as cycling, Formula One racing or tennis, Africa has yet to play a notable role.

Given that, to date, African enterprises and institutions have not played a significant part in the monitoring and assessment operations supposed to prevent and correct abuses, there is likewise no evidence of weight to put Africa in the hot seat with respect to implementation of anti-fraud and anti-corruption in international cases.

The mention above of individual major projects in Germany and the UK, a reference that could readily be extended to more or less all OECD countries, further implies that Africa is by no means different from other places regarding the presence of  seriously deficient methods of project award and project management. The relative extent of problems is hard to judge, partly because the intensity of investigation required to discover some of the situations in the OECD is so great. In other words, it may be that the cases found in Africa are simply easier to identify.

Not so bad after all…?

What does all this mean? Certainly it does not mean either that we should weaken the effort to reduce fraud and corruption, or fail to pursue the necessary improvements in public administration, public finance management, and legal mechanisms. But it does suggest that, fortunately, the degree and sophistication of fraudulent and corrupt behavior can be contained. It has yet to reach the levels found in the OECD, and indeed most African countries and institutions do not have the wherewithal to undertake corruption on the scale observed elsewhere. Timely action now might well avoid future disasters.

A final point is the actual impact of fraud and corruption on economic performance. In the absence of many detailed enquiries, it is not easy to state with confidence if the impact is worse in African countries, or in some of them, than it is elsewhere. What does seem to be clear is that, up to the present, the bad cases in Africa have received relatively strong publicity. Since in today’s world image is everything, it might be time for some of Africa’s institutions, national, regional and continental, to devote resources to showing what Africa is doing to improve its own systems, and ensure it does not reach the position which some other regions of the world are in.

 

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$1 billion per year lost to corruption: a Nigerian saga

A protester sports an anti-corruption T-shirt in Lagos.

$1 billion per year lost to corruption

Recently, AAF reported on the multi-faceted PR efforts of the new Buhari regime to clean up the soiled image of “corrupt Nigerian politics” — among other things, by staging photo ops with World Bank leaders, charging former government officials with bribery, and moving ahead on basic appointments.

Today, the Guardian reports that the Nigerian Minister for Information, Lai Mohammed, “kicked off a corruption awareness campaign appealing to Nigerians to join the fight,” noting that the previous regime’s embedded corruption had “enriched a small elite but left many Nigerians mired in poverty, despite the country being Africa’s top oil producer and having the continent’s biggest economy.”

AAF spoke with John Oxenham, a legal expert on anti-corruption measures with Africa advisory firm Pr1merio.  Oxenham comments:

“The Buhari administration is finally making good on its promises, it would seem, as it had thus far been slow to implement even the most basic of administrative tasks, such as appointing a proper cabinet.  As previously pointed out on your site, the visit with Ms. Lagarde and her advisors serves to enhance visibility and (hopefully) honest dedication to the anti-corruption efforts.  At Primerio, we work with several foreign private entities that express concern over doing business in Nigera, given its reputation.  While we can advise on compliance and risk-avoidance (keyword FCPA etc.), the Nigerian government’s efforts to stamp out corruption from within are helpful, as well, in developing a more robust foreign-direct-investment climate.”

That said, the Buhari camp must be careful not to create the appearance of using the “war against corruption” as a sham front for silencing the opposition under the guise of rooting out fraud.  “Employing the help of the courts — presumptively more impartial and fair than the political process — is therefore key to the government’s fight against graft in Nigeria,” says Andreas Stargard, also with Primerio.

“The estimated $1 billion per year lost to corrupt dealings over the past 7 years is staggering, especially when taking into account that these are merely the official figures — our Africa economists estimate that the actual loss to corruption amounts to an even larger share of the (significant) Nigerian GDP.”

And so the Nigerian saga continues…

Money laundering, $2bn phantom contracts, and Boko Haram

Nigeria moves on its anti-corruption promises: Former Defence Minister charged

Reuters and BBC have reported that former Nigerian Defence Minister, Bello Haliru Mohammed — a veterinarian by training who served in several ministerial positions, most recently under former President Goodluck Jonathan — has been charged with money laundering and related corruption counts.

He is no stranger to corruption allegations, as a German court named him in a 2007 bribery scandal involving communications company Siemens AG (Siemens was fined €201 million as a result).

Bellohalirumohammed

As AAF reported earlier, just this week, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, welcomed Nigeria’s anti-corruption campaign which has been significantly pushed by President Buhari, who was elected in May 2015.  The Buhari administration is moving towards developing a strong independent central body to root out wide-spread corruption in one of Africa’s wealthiest countries.

The allegations against Mr. Mohammed (and his son) involve money-laundering charges and criminal breach of trust, relating to at least 300 million naira ($1.5 million) that were meant for spending on defence measures against the threat of Boko Haram spreading its terrorist agenda during the years Mr. Mohammed was Minister.

The Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission accused the Mohammed duo of colluding with former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki, who also served under fmr. President Jonathan and was likewise charged with money laundering and criminal breach of trust last month.  As Reuters reports, “Buhari called for Dasuki’s arrest in November, accusing him of stealing funds through phantom arms contracts …”

Andreas Stargard from Africa advisory firm Pr1merio notes that, “the recent strides in Nigerian anti-corruption efforts coincide with Ms. Lagarde’s visit, and are certainly welcomed by the anti-corruption community as well as international & domestic Nigerian businesses, who have seen their country’s vast natural resources drained — quite literally — by being diverted under corrupt government ‘oversight’ over petroleum and other valuables that make Nigeria the largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa by GDP.”

From Managing Director to President: Get rid of corruption!

IMF’s Lagarde to Nigeria’s Buhari: Country needs to strike balance, yet ensure long-term anticorruption measures

By Michael James Currie.

The managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, welcomed Nigeria’s anti-corruption campaign which has been significantly pushed by President Buhari who was elected in May 2015.

The Buhari administration is moving towards developing a strong independent central body to deal with corruption in one of Africa’s wealthiest countries. The task will not be easy as their does appear to be a degree of consensus that the Nigerian judiciary is in itself corrupt and inefficient and cannot meaningfully tackle corruption without substantial reform.

An expert on African anti-corruption measures, Andreas Stargard, with Africa advisory firm Pr1merio, notes:

“The apparent inability by the Buhari administration to make timely ministerial appointments (which were over half a year delayed) and its failure to create a dedicated anti-corruption ministry do not bode well for a solely internally-driven strategy to combat governmental misconduct.  In our view, having Ms. Lagarde and her advisors (as well as privately outsourced firms) looking closely over the shoulder of the current administration would only serve to strengthen any existing anti-corruption efforts underway in Nigeria, and we’re happy to see the meeting took place as a first step in the right direction.”

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde (R) shakes hands with Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari (L) as Nigeria’s Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele (Far Right) and Nigeria’s Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (Far L) look on after their meeting at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, Nigeria January 5, 2016. REUTERS/IMF Staff Photo/Stephen Jaffe/Handout

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde (R) shakes hands with Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari (L) as Nigeria’s Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele (Far Right) and Nigeria’s Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (Far L) look on after their meeting at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, Nigeria January 5, 2016. (c) REUTERS/IMF Staff Photo/Stephen Jaffe/Handout

A further challenge, however, in the fight against corruption is that Nigeria is on the brink of a credit crunch due to the low oil prices which brings about additional considerations that must be taken into account when developing and implementing anti-corruption policies.

One of the Buhari administration’s most dramatic moves in its fight against corruption was to issue a directive (which came into effect in September 2015) that all income generating federal institutions pay their revenues into the central bank as opposed to local banks. This would see an estimated $6.6 billion flow from local banks to the central bank.

Economists had warned that a move such as this may put pressure on the Country’s financial position in the short term given that Nigeria is facing a credit crunch and there is already minimal lending going on.

The IMF has also pointed out that Nigeria is overly reliant on oil and in order to ensure long term stability, anti-corruption measures must be coupled with a move away from relying so heavily on oil.

Nigeria’s fiscal situation must be closely monitored to evaluate the impact of Buhari’s policy changes on the economic landscape in Nigeria, however, it does appear at this stage that the anti-corruption campaign will bring about long terms benefits which outweigh short term fiscal concerns.