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Corruption paved roads?

The construction of roads is associated with progress and development.

But questions continue to arise on the quality of roads. The loss to welfare is evident through poor road condition and the ACC’s recent report on public road condition indicated pervasive corruption in public road construction.

It established higher prevalence of corruption in the form of favouritism and abuse of functions and confirmed existence of bribery, abuse of privileged information and bid rigging among others.

However, the government, while not denying the prevalence of corruption, argues that these finding are based on perception and that it couldn’t take action on perceived corruption. Although the government believes that too many people are already monitoring the roads sector, one of the main findings of the research is poor supervision, monitoring and enforcement.

Why do people perceive corruption to be rife in road construction? Why does the government perceive otherwise? Whose perception is more valid in a democracy?

Corruption is illegal and is almost always hidden, which makes it difficult to measure. Perceptions of corruption offer a way to estimate the real situation. In an environment of imperfect information, perceptions of illegal activities among the people must spring the government into action, not critique researches that are based on audit findings.

Besides asking people to report corruption, the government must probe further into understanding what is it about the roads sector that compel people to perceive corruption. It is wrong to assume that cases reported by investigating agencies and in the media are a more accurate way to assess the level of corruption. These cases indicate policy lapses that call for accountability. They don’t reveal how entrenched corruption in its various forms is.

According to the report, un-due influence, ðdishonesty, unfair practices and lack of accountability among others were found in the road building process. These lapses in the public sector could be resulting in private gains. Based on audit findings, wrongdoings/corruption in the road sector cost the country an average of Nu 78.14 million a year between 2010 and 2015.

Roads are a necessity for welfare, which is why the government spends a huge chuck of its budget on building roads. Since the risks of corruption are magnified given the amount of funds pumped in to pave the roads, monitoring should be that much stringent. If bids are rigged and privileged information leaked, the ministry of works and human settlement has to take the responsibility to fix accountability.

Various agencies may be involved in building and monitoring the roads, but it is the ministry that leads the construction sector in the country. The ministry and the minister do not have reasons to whine about the complaints it receives so long it is following due process and being professional. Pleasing contractors is not the ministry’s job, nor the way to expect a good job from them.

It is, however, good that the ministry has initiated several reforms to make the road construction process more transparent and stringent. The requirement of audit clearance that the ministry is looking into for contractors must also expand to engineers and others who are equally involved in a project. Corruption obstructs economic and social development. If the government says it is serious, perceptions of corruption in the roads construction sector should be enough for it to review and implement the recommendations.

Critiquing a research and taking offence to the findings could also be perceived as rewarding wrongdoing.

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