Sub-Saharan Africa (Corruption and the Economy)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:12 pm on 1st July 2015.

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Photo of Stephen Phillips Stephen Phillips Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 7:12 pm, 1st July 2015

Let us begin our journey in almost any country—certainly far too many countries—on the world’s poorest continent, a continent bordering Europe: that of Africa. We sit in the office of the procurement manager of a Government Department—it matters not which one, for they are all much the same. Outside, not 100 feet away, a mother sits in the stifling heat with her children engaged in whatever business she has, selling mangoes, or coconuts, or smoked fish to passers-by perhaps. She survives and provides for her family on an income of less than a dollar a day. There is no father, for he passed away some time ago from a virus with which many in the developed world live full and long lives. Whether the mother has HIV, whether she will survive to see her sons grow to manhood, neither she nor we know. But our world, and even the world of our procurement manager, is a world wholly unknown to her experience.

In the office in which we sit, the procurement manager, who is tasked with spending donor funds from the developed world, is negotiating a contract for the supply of expensive photocopiers to the Department in which the brother who appointed him is the Minister. His salary is a few thousand dollars a year, a fortune to the vast majority of the citizens he is supposed to serve. Any yet below the cuff of his crisp white shirt, we find the essential element of the uniform of the Government procurement manager in any sub-Saharan African country: the gold, diamond-encrusted Rolex, yours for only $40,000 at any good airport en route to the nation in which we find ourselves. How on earth was it paid for? Was it perhaps a gift? No. It was paid for by the official himself from cash given to him, which secured another lucrative Government contract for another supplier—funds paid not to the Government, but to the official himself. It is, we are told, something we must accept; it is the way things are. But it is the way things have been for far, far too long.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, if you want to do business, you must pay to oil the wheels. You must pay if you want to avoid the consequences of laws designed to protect the most vulnerable from the exploitation of the natural resources that lie adjacent to homes. You must pay if you want to drive unmolested past makeshift roadblocks manned by real police officers employed by the state. You must pay for almost any interaction with the officials of the state. For if you do not, you will find your life much more difficult than it needs to be—if, that is, you are fortunate enough to have the cash to ease your path.

If you are rich enough, you can change that; if you are rich enough and you want to—and many businesses do—you can change the laws that inconveniently prevent you from exploiting the resources Africa possesses and, even better, from paying tax on your profits. If you are rich enough, you can always buy yourself out of any trouble you find yourself in.

Corruption in sub-Saharan Africa is therefore endemic; it is part of the way of life; it is how things are. But—and this is the point with which the House needs to be troubled—corruption stifles legitimate investment, kills economic growth, maintains and supports poverty, and because it does all those things, it also threatens the security of this country and of the developed world as a whole.

The poorest people—and it is the very poorest and the most vulnerable in our world that we are talking about—will risk all in an attempt to make their way to the developed world. And some of them, seeing the quality of life we have and they do not, are also ripe for a radicalisation that endangers the security of our citizens overseas and, as we have seen, here at home as well.