Five Polish peacekeepers are arrested for allegedly taking
$90,000 worth of bribes in Iraq. Several Sri Lankan officials are
suspended for mishandling tsunami aid. US audits show large
financial discrepancies in Iraq. Reports of aid abuse taunt
Two of the world's biggest-ever reconstruction projects - Iraq
and post-tsunami Asia - are facing major tests of credibility, as
billions of dollars of aid and reconstruction money pour in.
And according to a major report released Wednesday by
Transparency International (TI), an international organization that
focuses on issues of corruption, the omens are not good.
From Iraq and Afghanistan to Cambodia and Bosnia, from the
wrecked coasts of Asia to the kleptocratic carve-up in some African
countries, crisis zones are proving to be fertile soil for
corruption, the report argues.
"Many postconflict countries figure among the most corrupt in the
world," says Philippe le Billon of the University of British
Columbia, Canada, in the TI report. "Corruption often predates
hostilities and in many cases it features among the factors that
triggered political unrest or facilitated conflict escalation."
The report cites weak government, haphazard law and order, armed
factions that need appeasing, and a scramble for rich resources as
factors that render a country prone to corruption.
Nations that face security threats are even more vulnerable,
since they require protection money and may not be able to keep
Bosnia is a good example. During the breakdown of communism in
the late 1980s, factions scrambled for assets by plundering state
companies, a situation exacerbated by the 1992-1995 war.
Wartime sanctioned nefarious activity. Criminal gangs became
cherished paramilitary groups; black markets flourished; underworld
players became rich and powerful. After peace was declared in 1995,
the world community was wary of upsetting the status quo. It's still
unclear how much of the $5 billion spent on aid after the war ended
up in the pockets of shady characters.
"These elements were either part of the ruling political parties,
or criminal elements that were financing the ruling political
parties," says James Lyon, an analyst in Belgrade with the
International Crisis Group.
In Iraq, allegations range from petty bribery to large-scale
embezzlement, expropriation, profiteering and nepotism. The TI
report says it could become "the biggest corruption scandal in
"I can see all sorts of levels of corruption in Iraq," says
report contributor Reinoud Leenders, "starting from petty officials
asking for bribes to process a passport, way up to contractors
delivering shoddy work and the kind of high-level corruption
involving ministers and high officials handing out contracts to
their friends and clients."
The recent elections may help, he adds, but already he notes a
tendency for political bargaining indicative of "dividing up the
cake of state resources."
But it is not just about Iraqis dividing up the cake. US audits
of its own spending have found repeated shortcomings, including a
lack of competitive bidding for contracts worth billions of dollars,
payment of contracts without adequate certification that work had
been done, and in some cases, outright theft. …