Can the World Bank 'sell' anti-corruption?

An anti-corruption billboard in Namibia. Photo by: Philip Schuler / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

WASHINGTON — The World Bank should “sell anti-corruption” to countries that want to attract more private investment, according to the institution’s integrity chief.

As the bank turns more of its attention and resources to crowding private sector dollars into development finance opportunities, the institution has an opportunity to make the business case for cracking down on corruption, said Pascale Hélène Dubois, the bank’s vice president for integrity, on Wednesday.

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“A country that starts getting a better reputation in terms of fighting corruption will attract much more private sector investment than other countries,” Dubois said at the Center for Global Development.

“The other day, I was speaking up in a meeting with all the vice presidents, and it was about attracting private sector development, and so I told [World Bank President] Jim Kim … ‘I think that the World Bank, we should try and sell anti-corruption as a way to attract private sector development,’” Dubois said.

For decades, the World Bank shied away from talking about corruption out of concern for not meddling in countries’ internal politics. Former bank President Jim Wolfensohn broke the taboo in his speech at the 1996 annual meetings, when he famously declared: “Let’s not mince words: We need to deal with the cancer of corruption.”

In 2010, the major multilateral development banks signed a “cross debarment” agreement, which stipulates that any contractor that is debarred for more than a year by any one of the banks for corrupt or fraudulent practices will also be debarred from the others.

Today, according to Dubois, the institution is able to deal much more openly with the topic. She said the bank’s concern for corruption extends beyond just fiduciary responsibility and into its core mission of ending extreme poverty.

The World Bank’s integrity unit now houses more than 80 staff and, in an effort to broaden its anti-corruption impact, it has opened the compliance trainings it conducts with World Bank contractors to other companies. Still, some question whether the bank is well placed to bring about a systemic campaign against corruption, considering that the institution’s efforts tend to be focused on specific projects.

Hasan Tuluy, board director at the Partnership for Transparency and a former World Bank vice president, suggested the institution could do more work in partnership with local communities to create demand for better governance at the local level and to equip local actors with the capabilities to hold their officials accountable.

“If we don’t have that balanced approach with things that come from the top down, that are institutional structural, and things that come from the bottom … and a partnership that really engages the local society, I think we’re going to continue to run after the problem as opposed to getting ahead of it,” Tuluy said.

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    Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.