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February 06, 2005

Skim Job

Let's say you're a member of the administrative board of your local non-profit, a board currently involved in the task of finding a manager to coordinate charitable giving in the community on the organization's behalf. Furthermore, let's say there's a crack house down the street, and one of the residents has applied for the job.

Think you'd hire him? Would you trust him with your group's money? What if he swore up and down that, though his friends and roommates were indeed deeply corrupted and heavily involved in the business of buying and selling drugs, he was an upstanding and law-abiding citizen? Would that make much of a difference in your feelings as to his fitness for the job?

If you're like most people, the answer is "probably not." If a job applicant comes from an environment where corruption is endemic, you'd be a fool to put him in a position where he has access to your money. You'd be asking for trouble.

So, is it really that much of a surprise to anyone that, under Ghana's Kofi Annan and Egypt's Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the U.N.'S Oil For Food Operation was little more than a giant skim operation?

Ghana may not be the most corrupt country in the world, but it's not a place where anyone should feel comfortable opening a business either.

"Corruption indeed does occur in both the private and public spheres but it is particularly odious within the public sector because public officials are fiduciaries of the people, entrusted with the public purse," the publication noted. "Furthermore, the government is a big player in business in Ghana, dominating many spheres of economic activity. Not surprisingly, the points of contact between the private and the public sectors are also the places most susceptible to corruption."

The newsletter was dead-on when it stated, "Ghana's corruption problem has deep roots in society and our political culture, where societal expectations of largesse and patronage from holders of public office combine with a culture of official impunity, low remuneration, and opacity and unregulated discretion in the use of public authority to produce a system that is hospitable to corruption. Nobody reasonably expects a government to turn this perennial problem around in its first term in office. Government, however, must at least acknowledge the gravity of the problem and assume appropriate responsibility as the elected government for finding effective and lasting remedies to the problem."

You'd want to keep a sharp eye on the payroll clerk, as well.

A common form of public sector corruption in West Africa is the appearance of ‘ghost names’ on the civil service payroll. In Ghana, the deputy auditor-general disclosed in March 2002 that more than US $20 million had been paid to about 2,000 ghost names in the previous two years.25 In response, the finance minister ordered a headcount of civil servants; however, Ghana’s government faced growing criticism of its failure to address corruption within the civil service. In his inaugural address President John Kufuor promised to establish an ‘office of accountability’ under the direct supervision of the presidency that would oversee a code of conduct for public servants. Neither the office nor the code of conduct has yet been established.

Egypt is worse, despite the government's attempts there to whitewash the problem.

The timing of the well-choreographed anti-corruption campaign is paramount. In the last 12 months, the nature of the campaign and its near-exclusive focus on senior officials in President Mubarak’s NDP, concurrent with the political rise of his son Gamal, has led to speculation that the crackdown is simply a prelude to his son’s increasingly public role.

The most striking feature of the campaign is that it is completely government-run and managed, lacking any input from NGOs and other civil society groups. Despite the administration’s rhetoric about forging coalitions to combat graft, the ‘no to corruption’ slogan is a government monopoly. Draconian press and NGO legislation strips civil society of the requisite autonomy and resources to expose corrupt officials.
Since the presidency stands at the centre of Egypt’s institutional structure, it controls the pace and direction of any corruption campaign – which is why observers discount the efficacy of the current one. They interpret it as essentially a political project, a cover for shoving aside the old guard and paving the way for a new team of technocrats, headed by Mubarak’s son Gamal. At least one of the new appointments to head the corruption-ridden, public sector banks is a friend of the president’s son, himself a banker.

Let's say you do hire the crack house applicant, and, inevitably, discover that a number of people have been skimming the profits from one of your group's many projects, in this case the International Bake Sales for Peace. Among those implicated are the friends and associates of your former crack house denizen--for he has moved into a much finer residence--as well as his son.

Don't you think that, just maybe, you should take a look at the rest of your group’s books?

Posted by Bigwig at February 6, 2005 12:04 PM | TrackBack
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Them darkies. All thieves, innit.

Posted by: Dr Zen at February 6, 2005 09:27 PM

Short Answer: Why ascribe to a particular race or races features that are perfectly explainable simply by referring to human nature?

Longer Answer: Actually,I would describe the corruption endemic in both societies as a result of three things; Dictatorial government, the consequent lack of a rule of law thanks to a non-independent judiciary, and relatively low GDP.

The Mubarak dictatorship is still very much in power in Egypt, and in Ghana the Jerry Rawlings era ended just over four years ago, so bureaucrats from his time are still very much embedded within the civil service.

Ghana's judiciary has been considered corrupt for a while now, and, as you'll recall from the pdf linked above, Egypt's judiciary is increasingly under siege.

Interstingly, white collar crime and corruption seem part of a vicious circle. The poorer a country, the more likely the bureaucrats within are to illegally supplement their paltry incomes, and, since white collar crime tends to be more damaging to an economy than regular street crime, the very act of accepting the bribe reinforces the bad economic condition.

Put them all together, add a lack of transparency when it comes to government processes, and you'll get corruption in any society, no matter what the skin hue of the citizenry happens to be.

Posted by: Bigwig at February 6, 2005 11:30 PM

Odd that someone would comment about a balanced piece and try to make it out to be race baiting. Especially since so many people of African descent have suffered so horribly (think Darfur) under the current UN leadership.

The UN's current scandals are all related to corruption and greed. Unless of course, Dr. Zen is calling Annan a racist; which from his lack of response to genocide and terror on the African continent, it could be inferred.

Posted by: kschlenker at February 7, 2005 11:00 AM

The whole thrust of the piece was that we ought not to be surprised that the UN is crooked when it is run by men who come from places that are known for their crookedness.

That's rank. Still, you come from the same place as David Duke, so it's to be expected.

Posted by: Dr Zen at February 7, 2005 11:34 PM

Next he'll probably want us to search Arabs rather than little old ladies at the airport, the bastard.

Posted by: dalisister at February 8, 2005 09:56 AM

Damned darkies. All terrorists innit.,3604,1407964,00.html

Posted by: Dr Zen at February 8, 2005 10:58 PM

From the link above "The members of the UN security council, including the United States, knew about them but did nothing."

You're doing a bang up job of defaming the UN in an attempt to color me a rascist. Please, do continue. In the interests of fairness, I should warn you that very few media savvy consumers will consider George Monbiot an unbiased news source. You might as well link to Pat Buchanan for all the effect it will have.

Also, I hate to burst your bubble, but the reason the Turkey and Jordan stuff was greeted with a yawn was not due to some sort of ashamed silence on the part of Republicans, or so I assume, being a Democrat, but rather because it was old news. The US's treatment of those nations in regards to oil and Saddam has been well known for some time now.

Ten Things Progressives Should Know About the United Nations Oil for Food Scandal
According to the Administration's chief weapons inspector in Iraq, Saddam generated some $3 billion in schemes to subvert the program and $7.5 billion in direct deals with governments. The main routes for these illicit transactions were deals negotiated with neighboring countries, notably Jordan, Syria and Turkey (most negotiated before oil for food began). The United States explicitly condoned Iraq's deals with Jordan and Turkey, and was unable to persuade Syria to stop buying Iraqi oil outside of the oil-for-food program, allowing the country to become a major supplier of military goods to Iraq.

If the Center For American Progress was reporting this in December, you'd think it wouldn't have come as such a surprise to old Georgie after the Volker report came out, or that at the very least he would do his readers the favor of letting them know that.

I wonder why he didn't?

And, like it or not, I don't, since I've been for removing Saddam since the First Gulf War, "national interest" is a much more defensible position than "lining my pockets," which is what the scandal looks to be boiling down to on the part of the suspended UN employees.

The statement "United States law requires that assistance programmes to countries in violation of UN sanctions be ended unless continuation is determined to be in the national interest. Such determinations were provided by successive United States administrations." may shock some of you on the other side of the pond, but it'll barely rate a shrug here, among Democrats as well as Republicans. Remember, our Iraq stragegy for years was containment, not overthrow, and keeping Jordan and Turkey happy was integral to that strategy. Here's a CNN story on it--one posted prior to to release of the Volker report, you'll note. Even after containment was abandoned we wanted to keep Jordan quiescent.

Frankly the entire O.F.F. scandal is an illustration of my initial point; when dealing with individuals who come from nations where corruption is endemic, one should not be surprised when corruption is discovered. Iraq has been one of those nations for years. Of course it tarnished everything it touched.

That's one reason why the O.F.F., as well as the Enron, WorldCom and Martha Stuart cases are such big news over here. Relatively, at least to countries such as Iraq, Egypt and Ghana, though not to shining Finland, the U.S. is a farily uncorrupt country. We don't expect that slipping the judge a twenty will influence the outcome of a court case, except in the negative. It's another reason why Monbiot's laundry list of charges won't raise an eyebrow over here. Everyone aside from the most partisan of Americans will assume that the perps behind those alleged crimes will be caught and given their just deserts. If Bernie Ebbers can't buy his way out of justice over here, no one can.

This is where you call us all foolishly naive, but I think you'll find that Americans prefer that to the default European attitude; cynical yet feeling powerless to affect real change. Occasionally the optimist does manage to move the rubber tree plant, while the pesimists is slowly buried beneath the dust.

Given the scale of the corruption in O.F.F., Kofi Annan is now in the same position as Bernie Ebbers and Ken Lay. He's either incompetent, or corrupt. Which would you prefer?

I admit, were it not for Kojo's involvement in O.F.F., as well as Boutrous-Ghali's curiously quick and seemingly unprompted finger-pointing at Annan, I would not have considered the possibility that he was involved a likely one. Once the idea of Annan's being corrupt is raised, however, the only logical response is to say "If so, why?" There are any number of potential reasons, I supopose, but what struck me was the memory of the troubles the IOC had with corruption within its ranks prior to the Salt Lake City Olympics.

Inevitably, the members who sold their votes and accepted bribes came from countries where corruption was the order of the day. Given human nature and the prior example of another international organization, why should the same pattern not be repeated at the U.N.?

Posted by: Bigwig at February 9, 2005 01:25 AM
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