Mzansi Afrika

From Johannesburg South Africa, a window on the world

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

It takes two to tango

I find the whole topic of corruption extremely fascinating. One of the aspects of global corruption that bothers me is the way in which western countries, and white people- yes I am generalising - come down so hard on black people and African countries for being corrupt when they so often indulge in corrupt practices themselves. Take the latest example of Hallibuton in the US.

A Halliburton Co. unit is facing new questions from Pentagon auditors about bills for supplying fuel to the U.S. military in Iraq as part of a no-bid contract to rebuild the country's oil infrastructure, according to a Wall Street Journal report Tuesday. The newspaper reports that this new scrutiny comes after other inquiries about the billions the company has billed the military for services rendered in Iraq. A Justice Department probe is examining if the government showed favoritism when awarding the company the oilfield contracts.

A Halliburton spokeswoman quoted by the Journal stated that the company is cooperating with the Army to prove it carried out its tasks "at a fair and reasonable cost given the circumstances." Also, the Journal cites Halliburton officials who deny overcharging the government. The amount in question is part of a larger contract worth $875 million, according to a BBC News report.

Previous Pentagon audits have stated that it may have overcharged the government $61 million from May through September 2003 for shipments of gasoline, kerosene and other fuels. But this audit looks at a longer period and auditors had more time to pore over the company's procurement paperwork. In addition to these issues, the Justice Department has launched an open civil-fraud inquiry to determine if Halliburton overcharged for the fuel shipments, while federal investigators are examining if the Pentagon showed improper favoritism when granting Halliburton the oilfield reconstruction contract.(source)

Hallibuton has also been acused of bribing officials in Nigeria relating to oil contracts. Human beings in positions of power have been corrupt since time immemorial. I think the only thing that prevents corruption is when countries have strong democratic institutions in place to act as a barrier. These elements obviously don't exist in many African countries, hence the widespread corruption - but who's more to blame the briber or the bribee? Western democracies have had two or three hundred years to mature slowly over time without foreign interference in national policies to the extent that we've seen meddling in African politics by outsiders over the past 100 years.

The west also had time to industrialise and grow their markets to maturity without having to contend with the negative effects of globalisation like trade discrimination. Neither did they have to contend with massive poverty, conflict, colonialisation and AIDS. Colonialism brought with it bribery and corruption, African countries only started gaining independence in the 1960's giving round about 50 or 60 years to right the wrongs of the past - but the foreign interference still continued, and the Cold War had a further negative impact on the continent in the years that followed independence.

Of course, ultimately it's up to African leaders to sort out the corruption aspect and look after their citizens, but to write the continents problems off purely as a result of corruption without taking into consideration the role of all the other mitigating factors is unfair and biased in my opinion. At the same time, enough is enough, it's high time for African leaders to take a stand and fight the scourge of corruption - too many of them have only been too happy to benefit, and if Africans don't put a stop to it themselves, the west sure as hell isn't going to.

However, one of the points I'm trying to make is that I think it's wrong that Africa gets the entire bad rap for being corrupt while the western countries retain the complete moral high ground. In the meantime they are helping to perpetuate the rotten system as their multinationals continue to pay bribes, particularly in the billion dollar World Bank development projects such as the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.


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