Wednesday, January 05, 2005

On our own (World Bank) governance: WBG’s fight against corruption

Dear Colleagues,

I sincerely believe that the World Bank Group could lose its entire capital, and could still count on the full support of its shareholders, as long as they believed that this was just the financial consequence of a bona fide development action. But I also think that the Bank could lose all support, if its willingness to fight corruption is put in doubt.

I have seen some very important advances but I also believe that the Bank still has some way to go before it can fully live up, in actions and in spirit, to its commitment of being a prime force in the battle against eternal corruption. The fight against corruption really boils down to the continuous setting of good examples, and therefore there could never be a real fight against it if you are unwilling to communicate very openly with the world about your struggle.

I have repeatedly noted concerns that publicity related to fraud and corruption in any Bank project could make it appear that the Bank has acted negligently in its supervision and thus impeded the good work of many; and, on the other hand, that disclosing more detailed information could provide a basis for litigation or other challenges. And this, in turn, might be indicative that a somewhat nonproactive state of mind still exists in some quarters of the Bank. Of course disclosing corruption always presents risks but those risks clearly belong to the “getting up from bed” risks, and, as such, are totally negligible when compared to the “staying in bed” risks.

The Bank, in order to have the moral strength to fight the corruption externally, needs to demonstrate that it is doing its best at home. As no one could expect the Bank, where thousands of individuals move billions in resources, to be immune to human shortcomings, fighting corruption can only mean being very forthcoming on the issue.

In the same vein, as corruption has many tentacles and is certainly not limited to individual wrong-doings, the Bank could perhaps be well-served by appointing an Ombudsman for Corporate Behavior to ascertain whether there is a logical and moral relation between its almost sacred mission of fighting poverty and the way it goes around the planet earth doing it.


Extract from Voice and Noise 2006