On his first visit to Egypt, Alan Bacarese, director for Integrity and Anti-Corruption at the African Development Bank (ADB), spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly on the sidelines of the first African Anti-Corruption Forum (AACF) in Sharm El-Sheikh about Egyptian and African efforts to fight corruption.
Bacarese has long experience of fighting corruption, beginning with the UK Crown Prosecution Service. He later moved to the UN where he was a consultant with the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime and was responsible for co-drafting the UN Technical Guide to the UN Convention against Corruption.
How widespread is corruption in Africa, and what forms does it take?
I have been working in Africa for 16 years and corruption is everywhere. In far too many countries it goes right from the bottom to the top. It includes a traffic policeman demanding a bribe to heads of states.
Corruption is a major problem in Africa. As one of the speakers in the forum said, this is a fight for our lives because of its impact on development and on poverty. From the bank’s perspective, we use taxpayers’ money from many different sources and we have to be accountable for how this money is spent. If we are not spending it on projects, if it is not helping agriculture in Africa or making lives easier for young people, it is being stolen and used by somebody for illegal purposes.
Regarding types of corruption, there is straightforward petty corruption, the abuse of power by public officials in their interactions with ordinary citizens — like the example of the traffic policeman — right through to sophisticated high-level corruption which sometimes involves heads of states, intelligence and security officials who steal huge amounts of money which is stored in overseas bank accounts.
According to the UN, Africa loses $148 billion to corruption annually. What are the characteristics of a society that facilitates corruption on such a scale? And how is this illicit money moved?
Such huge amounts of money are stolen because we have people in power who abuse that power. When there are private family enterprises in a relationship with very powerful politicians large amounts of money can be stolen.
The way such amounts are moved is much more sophisticated than it used to be. In the old days money used to be moved in cash in diplomatic bags for example, as happened in the case of Nigerian government. Nowadays, it is transferred through international bank accounts, through invoicing to fictitious companies, and even using the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. Bitcoin has become an easy way to move money. You can deposit it here and then withdraw it in Russia, the US or the UK. There are many different ways now to move illicit funds.
In Africa there is not enough effort to combat corruption. People at the bottom of society have no connections with government so when a large amount of money is stolen by powerful people they will not see or hear of it and thus will never try to get it back.
The problem encompasses a lack of education, awareness, technical capacity and, definitely, the lack of leadership and political will. What Africa really needs are strong leaders who are honest and sincere when they say they will tackle corruption.
Technical capacity is very important, because it is complicated work. Investigators need to be very savvy when it comes to monitoring money and the movement of finances. They also need to have the necessary skills and capabilities. They need to understand how to extract data from phones and laptops for example.
Political will is essential if you want to eradicate corruption. It manifests itself in several ways: the way in which cases are selected, and the way in which cases are shut down.
How do you measure corruption?
There are a number of measures for corruption in Africa. They include the Corruption Perception Index (CPI), published annually by Transparency International, and the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG).
Combating corruption takes place by improving education and changing specific policies, such as procurement processes. We have to adopt mechanisms that oblige people and politicians to declare their assets.
How do you assess Egypt’s endeavours to tackle corruption domestically and at a continental level?
The African Development Bank has a three-year project with Egypt’s Administrative Control Authority which began in 2017. The project seeks to improve the authority’s technical capabilities and expose it to international best practice. We are trying to build their IT capacity and ability to investigate and prosecute cases.
One of the main reasons I am here is to meet with my colleagues in our Cairo office to see how the programme is going. I will probably come back again to provide some technical assistance myself, and expertise in supporting the authority.
What is the role of civil society and the media in fighting corruption?
Their role is very important. It is very important for people to know more about corruption cases via mass and social media. It is also important that civil society and journalists help raise awareness and get people asking the right questions. The public can then lead demands for change, transparency and proper governance.
What is the role of the Integrity and Anti-Corruption Department of the African Development Bank?
The Integrity and Anti-Corruption Department has a mandate to carry out independent investigations into allegations of corruption, fraud and other sanctionable practices in Bank Group Financed Operations.
Bank Group Financed Operations are internal corporate procurement issues and operations financed by the Bank Group. The department also develops preventative measures to proactively reduce the potential for corruption, fraud, misconduct and other sanctionable practices within Bank Group Financed Operations.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 20 June, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: The quest for transparency