Dealing with dilemmas when tackling the disease of corruption

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The infrastructure industry needs to redouble its efforts to root our corruption, says University of Cambridge professor Peter Guthrie.

The focus that FIDIC’s recent State of the World report brings to the global disease of corruption is welcome and timely. There is inadequate progress on the elimination of corruption in the delivery of infrastructure worldwide and it remains endemic to a greater or lesser extent everywhere.

By identifying levels of corruption by country, the report might appear to apportion blame on individual nations rather than acknowledging that the feedstock of corruption in the poorest performing areas of the world is dominated by the presence of foreign direct investment.

As the report says, if there is no economic activity there is no corruption. Countries where massive investment has been recognised as being needed for development often show high and crippling levels of corruption. The responsibility for this lies as much with the organisations which are agents of the inflow as it does with the recipient countries’ agencies.

The knowledge needed to act

Globally we have more than enough knowledge of how corrupt practices divert well-intentioned funding to private gain, but there is a terrible dilemma of having to choose between cutting off the flow of funds and accepting a level of syphoning of money as the need for investment is so pressing.

It is not possible to isolate any party in the process of investment in infrastructure from a degree of complicity, even when their own actions are beyond reproach. FIDIC has a unique and treasured position in the delivery of infrastructure worldwide and its members need to redouble their commitment to the elimination of the haemorrhaging of money in the process.  

Peter Guthrie is Professor of Engineering for Sustainable Development at the University of Cambridge. The FIDIC State of the World report he refers to can be found here.