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'The site manager was shot dead on site.'


I would love to believe a World Bank amnesty goes to the heart of the problem of corruption.

However, there is a danger that this will only scratch the surface. Who will dare to challenge the power and influence that keeps the 'business as usual' show on the road?

I went to Bangladesh in 2004 aiming to help instil a maintenance culture for managing transport infrastructure. The Department for International Development (DfID) aimed to remove the worst of corruption - that which affects the quality of workmanship.

I went out to Bangladesh believing I could make a difference by being involved in a project that improved governance and reduced poverty.

Unfortunately, I am now concerned that a failure to address corruption as a systemic rather than superficial problem could threaten the ability of aid - even alongside Make Poverty History campaigns - to make a lasting difference.

I was upset to discover a blind eye being turned to poor workmanship. In one case road surfacing was found to be missing aggregate. It was rolled to form a 5mm thick layer that peeled off like marzipan when the rains came - but the aggregate and full pavement thickness was invoiced by the contractor.

In another case, the surfacing had an extra ingredient: air.

Failure to roll the surfacing meant the required surfacing thickness could be achieved using less material.

But what shocked me most was the result of efforts to eliminate corruption. We evaluated contracts for DfID to eliminate corruption from the procurement process. But the final decision was made after the deals had been done by contractors bidding for the works.

When the work was awarded to the 'wrong' contractor, the site manager, a Bangladeshi engineer my age, was shot dead on site by a hitman hired by the contractor who had expected to win the job.

Elsewhere, we found two contracts for the same flood repair work paid for by two donors.

A lack of transparent systems has enabled corruption to persist unseen by the World Bank and other donors - even though it is often reported in the Bangla newspapers.

I went to Bangladesh because I believed the lofty aims of donors. But I saw how easily the greater good can be hampered by unconstrained self-interest.

While we worked hard to provide the tools to remove corruption, enforcing their use is beyond the remit of an aid project.

This is a wider issue for the donors and the World Bank to consider, as advocates for the wider interests of the powerless majority of poorer citizens in Bangladesh.

Corruption means that the act of poverty reduction itself could be making the rich richer at the expense of the poor.

Removing corruption requires the World Bank to not assume everything it is told is true.

If the World Bank lends money in a way that enables corruption, and then turns a blind eye, then it is the architect of the problem.

James Kent is a civil engineer. His name has been changed.

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