Thursday, April 1, 2010

More Ridiculous Corruption

In many African countries, ‘power’ is divided into multiple ministries (economic minister, minister of forestry, minister for transport, interior, national defense, foreign affairs, etc.).  It sounds like this is set up to prohibit corruption…it isn’t. 

First of all, in most countries, ministers are assigned, not voted into office.  Secondly, there are so many ministers assigned it is hard to keep track of them.  Gabon used to have 50 ministers, although the new President, Ali, has apparently made a lot of cuts in an attempt to weed out corruption…or is it just a closer distribution of funds to friends and family, we’ll see.

Across the continent, money for ministries is doled out from the top.  The ministers then dole it out to local state/county government officials and programs.  By the time it gets down to street level, you can imagine what portion is actually spent on programs for the people.

Because there is such a wide dispersion of power and funds, and because transparency is not a common concept to the continent, what each does with their portion of the annual budget is pretty much their business.

The other challenge to this set-up is that everyone is competing internally for dollars.  If I am the minister of roads and bridges and I receive a large enough budget to keep my family and friends in BMW’s and Lexus’, I might actually be able to build a road (not a bridge, that’s too expensive). 

This competition for funds increases the likelihood of corruption.  If I don’t get enough from the top, I am more likely to try to get it from other sources, outside sources, which my ministry may touch (you know, like oil, mining and timber companies looking for license, or tourism corporations looking to develop, or how about an airline interested in adding Libreville to their network – I don’t care that this will increase competition and ultimately make it less expensive and more convenient for my family to go on vacation, plus increase the taxes legally received by my ministry and increase our budget - lets see how much they are willing to pay to include this armpit of an airport to their service).

Enough ranting, lets get down to the reason for my post.  The US Navy has been pursuing efforts to help the countries along the Gulf of Guinea to increase maritime security throughout the region.  Much of the gulf is rich in oil.

Although Gabon has 550 miles of coastline, they really don’t have a Navy because they don’t have ships capable of going much distance beyond a local port.  The US Navy recently donated two vessels to the Gabonese military.  By vessel, I mean large, metal, million dollar pieces of machinery.  Guess why two million dollars in donated ships can’t be used by the Gabonese military?  Someone needs to pay the duty to the person who runs the port…seriously.

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