Coronavirus Live Series: How can we Reduce the Risk of Corruption during the Pandemic Response?

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Coronavirus Live Series: How can we Reduce the Risk of Corruption during the Pandemic Response?

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The pandemic has exposed the benefits of a stronger, flexible, and more responsive civil service which can incorporate risk management and has access to contingencies in an emergency. It has also stressed the need for sound procurement policies, systems and processes. Helping countries procure lifesaving goods and services on an emergency basis is critical to blunt the impact of COVID-19. 

Emerging lessons from the immediate response to the pandemic point to the need to adapt models of government operations, service delivery, and interactions with citizens, which include GovTech options for modernization of services to citizens and businesses. Join us LIVE as we discuss these issues with Edward Olowo-Okere, Global Director for Governance at the World Bank. 

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  • 00:06 [Srimathi Sridhar] Good morning, everyone and welcome to  
  • 00:08 World Bank Live. I'm Srimathi Sridhar with the  World Bank and over the next half hour or so,  
  • 00:12 we've got a great conversation for you on the role  of government and the state as they take the lead  
  • 00:17 in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. We'll  be asking what are the challenges and pressures  
  • 00:22 governments are facing as they cope with the  pandemic and what can be done to help them  
  • 00:26 function in these difficult times. Now, as they  look to respond efficiently, they also face the  
  • 00:31 added threat of corruption. With the pandemic  requiring a massive response by governments,  
  • 00:36 opportunities for corruption are on the rise.  So how best can governments tackle corruption  
  • 00:41 and ensure integrity in these tough times? To  talk about this and more, I'm delighted to be  
  • 00:47 joined by Ed Olowo-Okere. He is the director  of the Governance Global Practice here at the  
  • 00:52 World Bank. Ed, welcome. [Ed Olowo-Okere] 
  • 00:54 Thank you Sri. [Srimathi Sridhar] 
  • 00:56 So Ed, let's kick things off. Take me back to  the basics here as we talk about government  
  • 01:01 and their key role in responding to the pandemic  on a global scale. It might be obvious to some,  
  • 01:07 but let's put it on record. Why are  governments so important right now and how so? 
  • 01:12 [Ed Olowo-Okere] Thanks Sri. I think it all begins with the  
  • 01:16 nature of the pandemic. The pandemic poses serious  public health and safety issues. As we have seen  
  • 01:25 in the many hundreds of thousands of lives that  have already been lost and millions of people that  
  • 01:31 have been infected across the globe, governments  really need to take emergency health response to  
  • 01:40 save lives. Citizens do expect that from their  governments. As we are also seeing in many  
  • 01:48 countries, the containment measures that have been  introduced, like the lockdown, social distancing  
  • 01:56 measures, shutdown of borders. These are really  actions that can only be taken by a government. 
  • 02:02 Now, when you look at some of the containment  measures, they're also having some ripple effects,  
  • 02:08 on all sorts of businesses. If you look at this  ripple effect, then they also require some kind  
  • 02:17 of economic response, and only governments are  capable of doing that. Then on top of that,  
  • 02:22 to be able to do all of this respond, it requires  a lot of coordination. Coordination across levels  
  • 02:30 of governments, coordination within governments  and coordination with citizens and with private  
  • 02:36 sector actors. I mean, these are proposals  that only governments are best placed to lead. 
  • 02:42 [Srimathi Sridhar] Absolutely. All these things that you mentioned,  
  • 02:46 these are all tall tasks, of course, but explain  to us why have some governments found it more  
  • 02:51 difficult to respond? [Ed Olowo-Okere] 
  • 02:54 I think let's begin with acknowledging one very  important fact. This crisis is of an unimaginable  
  • 03:03 proportion that many governments could hardly  have foreseen these 12 months ago and prepared  
  • 03:10 adequately in advance. With that thinking,  countries with weak public institutions,  
  • 03:18 poor coordination practices within  and across government levels,  
  • 03:22 countries with poor level of preparedness  for disasters generally, and also inadequate  
  • 03:29 investments in technology and digital skills  will struggle to respond in this kind of context. 
  • 03:37 Now, if you look at some of the containment  measures that have been undertaking like the  
  • 03:43 lockdown and social distancing, which I mentioned  earlier on, they post very serious challenges to a  
  • 03:49 state of continuity in some jurisdictions. Let  me give some examples. Imagine for instance,  
  • 03:56 a government that now needs to adopt a certain  level of remote working without the necessary  
  • 04:03 infrastructure and procedures in place before the  pandemic. Imagine for instance, countries where  
  • 04:11 their regulations require that files must still be  carried from one office to another. Then imagine  
  • 04:19 for instance, the absence of government technology  solutions, what we call "GovTech", to run the core  
  • 04:25 operations of government remotely and to deliver  services to citizens and businesses. All of that  
  • 04:32 would make a lot of countries to be unable to  respond effectively. But in fragile and conflict  
  • 04:39 and follies affected countries, then you have  further complications in terms of weaker public  
  • 04:45 institutions, weaker coordination across levels  of government, security issues that might prevent  
  • 04:53 access and also poor infrastructure. [Srimathi Sridhar] 
  • 04:58 So Ed, I'm glad you mentioned this because it  seems to me from what you're saying that it's  
  • 05:02 those countries that are in the greatest need that  are going to have the toughest time, keeping their  
  • 05:08 governments functioning. Wouldn't you say? [Ed Olowo-Okere] 
  • 05:10 Yes, unfortunately. Many fragile and conflict and  follies affected countries as well as low-income  
  • 05:20 countries, have found it more challenging  to ensure state continuity in this period.  
  • 05:27 We have to imagine what the issues are. They  face challenges around the core operations of  
  • 05:35 government. Earlier on, I mentioned that if you  have to work remotely, how well were they prepared  
  • 05:40 to do this? How can you deliver services if you  have to work remotely and you are not prepared  
  • 05:47 for that? What about coordination across levels of  government if you didn't have a good arrangement  
  • 05:52 for that before? Also, when you then look at the  lockdown and the challenges of working remotely,  
  • 05:59 how do they develop and implement a comprehensive  package of response to the crisis? So among other  
  • 06:07 things what you are then going to find is  that countries that have made less investment  
  • 06:12 in technology and digital skills, less investment  in strengthening public institutions and systems,  
  • 06:18 and have not focused on modernizing the public  employment management will have bigger challenges. 
  • 06:25 [Srimathi Sridhar] Great Ed. Hold on to these thoughts.  
  • 06:29 Before we dive any deeper, I want to take a  quick break here and welcome those of you online,  
  • 06:33 who have been listening in. If you're just  joining us, welcome to World Bank Live. We're  
  • 06:37 here with Ed Olowo-Okere, he is the director of  the Governance Global Practice here at the World  
  • 06:43 Bank. We're talking about how we can reduce the  risk of corruption during the COVID-19 pandemic,  
  • 06:48 as well as the specific role that governments  and the state are playing at this time. We  
  • 06:53 see a lot of new folks tuning in, so a big  welcome to all of you. Thanks for being here. 
  • 06:57 Just looking at our audience. We've got Lisbeth  from Peru, Milos from Serbia, Danielle from  
  • 07:04 London, Wendy from Honduras, Clement from Zambia,  Russell from Bangladesh, Kumrat from Indonesia  
  • 07:11 and Yvonne from Mexico. So hi guys, it's great to  have you here with us and we hope you're enjoying  
  • 07:16 the program so far. Now Ed, let's get back to  our conversation here. We've talked a little  
  • 07:22 bit about the role that governments play during  a crisis like this pandemic. Some are obvious  
  • 07:27 and some are less obvious, but now let's bring  in the threat of corruption and unpack this a  
  • 07:32 little bit further. On a basic level, if it isn't  addressed, what is the impact of corruption on  
  • 07:38 countries and their people? [Ed Olowo-Okere] 
  • 07:41 Corruption can impact a country and its people in  many ways. We could probably spend the whole of  
  • 07:50 today talking about that. But then in the interest  of time, let me kind of try to summarize. First,  
  • 07:58 corruption can divert resources away from  where they are most needed. Take for example,  
  • 08:05 in most of our client countries, we need  more investments in health, in education,  
  • 08:11 in infrastructure and other development  programs. Corruption will take resources  
  • 08:15 away from that. Then corruption can also divert  resources away from those who need the resources  
  • 08:22 the most. Take for example, the poor and we  still have millions of that in the world,  
  • 08:28 the jobless, and we have millions more of  that as well. Then we also have like the  
  • 08:34 small and medium term enterprises who could  benefit from the support from the government,  
  • 08:41 but corruption will take resources away from them. So what you then have is that corruption benefits  
  • 08:47 a few people who then pocket the resources  that belong to everyone. The consequence of  
  • 08:55 that is that you have increasing or widening  inequality in any country that is having a lot  
  • 09:03 of corruption. We also have to know part of the  impact of the corruption as well. Corruption will  
  • 09:10 undermine trust in public institutions and  the government generally. That can render a  
  • 09:18 government ineffective if there is lack of trust  from the citizens, from the private sector. To  
  • 09:24 sum it up, corruption can prevent a country from  achieving its full potential, and if I may say,  
  • 09:33 corruption is evil. [Srimathi Sridhar] 
  • 09:34 Okay, Ed. Let's now tie in what you're saying  about corruption, specifically with the COVID-19  
  • 09:41 crisis that we're facing today. You recently  wrote a blog about corruption risks. Folks  
  • 09:46 can find it on our World Bank blog platform about  how the response to the pandemic raises the risks  
  • 09:52 of corruption. You said "at its worst corruption  could lead to unnecessary suffering and even loss  
  • 09:57 of lives by diverting scarce resources from the  people and places who need them the most". Can you  
  • 10:04 explain why that is and which areas are affected? [Ed Olowo-Okere] 
  • 10:08 Yes, that is absolutely true. Let's go back  again to the basics and that is the nature of  
  • 10:16 the pandemic. It requires speedy response from  the government. In the process of providing  
  • 10:24 that speedy response, then a lot of things can  go wrong. Let us also not forget that in this  
  • 10:30 environment of a serious human crisis, there  are those who also kind of see this as an  
  • 10:38 opportunity to make money. The standard checks  and balances as they are designed for governments,  
  • 10:46 they are not necessary for emergencies or for  speedy response. What you can have in a situation  
  • 10:52 like this is that the checks and balances as  they were originally designed can be skipped.  
  • 10:57 Confusions may arise on oversight. For instance,  as the governments try to coordinate within and  
  • 11:06 across levels of government. Then, it is also  possible that in the process of wanting to do  
  • 11:13 things speedily, attention may not be paid to  adequate documentation, adequate reporting. 
  • 11:20 We have to understand, nevertheless, this is  capable of undermining trust in government. I  
  • 11:28 think I mentioned that earlier on. In the context  of this pandemic, if trust in government is  
  • 11:34 already undermined, then corruption can generally  render the government response and interventions  
  • 11:41 ineffective. Let me maybe give some concrete  example. Governments may make interventions,  
  • 11:51 for instance like some containment measures like  lockdown and so on and so forth. If it is possible  
  • 11:59 to give bribes to law enforcement officials,  to be exempted from containment measures,  
  • 12:06 then the expected result of containment or  lockdown may not necessarily be achieved.  
  • 12:15 Also imagine for instance that the funds  that are meant to procure protective gear  
  • 12:22 for health workers are diverted. Then you have  health workers being exposed unnecessarily. 
  • 12:31 In terms of the areas that corruption affects,  I think it's all aspects of government response.  
  • 12:39 Whether it is the [inaudible] response, if you  take the [inaudible] response, for instance,  
  • 12:42 there could be corruption in the procurement  of medical supplies, even in the distribution.  
  • 12:48 There could also be corruption in the payment of  salaries and allowances to health workers. Then,  
  • 12:55 let's go to another category of  government response like support  
  • 12:58 to households. The money may not necessarily  go to poor people or those who are the most  
  • 13:04 vulnerable. It is possible that the cash  could be diverted. Goods, I mean foods,  
  • 13:13 for instance, that are being procured for  governments to be distributed to households,  
  • 13:17 the prices can be inflated. [Srimathi Sridhar] 
  • 13:19 Absolutely. [Ed Olowo-Okere] 
  • 13:20 Yeah. In terms of support to farms, also  you can have government favor in certain  
  • 13:26 sectors because of influence by some powerful  individuals. Those are some of the areas. 
  • 13:32 [Srimathi Sridhar] Great Ed and I want to  
  • 13:35 talk about law enforcement specifically.  Would you say that emergency measures to  
  • 13:40 restrict people's movements to stop the spread  of the virus could actually heighten corruption? 
  • 13:44 [Ed Olowo-Okere] Yes, unfortunately. As we  
  • 13:50 are seeing many countries across the globe, law  enforcement agencies are being asked to enforce  
  • 13:57 the emergency measures. And the question is why?  Some people may not necessarily want to comply  
  • 14:04 and they may have reasons why they want to get  an exception. In some jurisdictions that really  
  • 14:12 provides opportunities for the law enforcers to  ask for and receive bribes. I'm not just imagining  
  • 14:20 this, I'm sure there are people watching these  live events that have heard about this or have  
  • 14:27 experienced this first hand. [Srimathi Sridhar] 
  • 14:33 Well Ed, this is a good moment to take a quick  break and welcome folks who may have just joined  
  • 14:37 us. A huge welcome to everybody who's watching us  from around the world. We're so happy to have you  
  • 14:41 here with us. We're talking to Ed Olowo-Okere. He  is the director of the Governance Global Practice  
  • 14:47 here at the World Bank. We're talking about the  risks of corruption during the COVID-19 pandemic  
  • 14:52 and the specific role governments and the state  play during this crisis. Now at this time, we  
  • 14:58 have got Hassan from Egypt, Johanna from the Ivory  Coast, Sierra from Gambia, Jeanne from Barbados,  
  • 15:06 Anan from Laos, David from Germany, Dora from  Dubai and Melinda from Papua New Guinea. Guys,  
  • 15:14 that's fantastic. Hi, and it's great to have you  here. Thanks so much for saying hello and we hope  
  • 15:19 you're enjoying the program so far. Ed let's keep  our conversation going. We've talked about the  
  • 15:26 role governments play in this pandemic, as well  as added pressures in challenges now with the  
  • 15:32 risk of corruption. So let's start to look ahead  a little bit. Huge government spending is vital  
  • 15:38 in the response to COVID-19. How do you think  we ensure it continues but also guard against  
  • 15:44 corruption at the same time? [Ed Olowo-Okere] 
  • 15:45 I think this is a very important question.  It is important to ensure that the government  
  • 15:52 programs and spending continues and they are  effective and achieve their desired results. Now,  
  • 15:59 I think what governments should do is first to  recognize explicitly the risk of corruption.  
  • 16:05 As I said earlier on, there are people who  see this as an opportunity to make money.  
  • 16:11 That's a fact of life. Now, governments who then  assess the risks of corruption upfront and they  
  • 16:19 look at each of the different categories of their  response, whether it is the [inaudible] response,  
  • 16:24 the support to household or support to firms,  and see what are the risks of corruption,  
  • 16:31 also put in place adequate mitigation  measures to be able to address that. 
  • 16:36 Then there are also some other important things.  I think government should really deal with  
  • 16:41 corruption issues promptly. I mean corruption will  still occur. So deal with it promptly and be very  
  • 16:48 transparent about what the cases of corruption  are and how they are dealing with it. Then,  
  • 16:53 more generally, governments should also strengthen  accountability measures. There are some of these  
  • 16:59 like exposed audits, reporting oversight  arrangements, and so on and so forth. Also  
  • 17:06 governments should really ensure and enhance  transparency very broadly. Including direct  
  • 17:14 links to citizens and to NGOs, non-governmental  organizations. This will give them access to  
  • 17:20 information and respond to queries that they may  have. If I may just state one important principle  
  • 17:28 to conclude on this question, government should  really be very generous with information. On their  
  • 17:35 response program and on the spending and how they  are dealing with corruption. That's very critical. 
  • 17:41 [Srimathi Sridhar] So Ed, let's keep this going with  
  • 17:45 this next question. Now, what can be done to help  countries and governments? Is it about financial  
  • 17:51 support or is it about technical advice? [Ed Olowo-Okere] 
  • 17:55 So financial support is very important.  Many countries obviously need that. Also,  
  • 18:04 let's face the fact we are a bank and it is  one of the things that we provide to client  
  • 18:10 countries. But more importantly, we also offer  superb technical assistance with our global  
  • 18:17 expertise and our clients appreciate that a lot.  Also given our global reach, we, the Bank are  
  • 18:27 able to identify and share best practices across  countries. That is really a very important aspect  
  • 18:37 of our supporting countries to respond. [Srimathi Sridhar] 
  • 18:40 Absolutely Ed. I think this sort of segues  very nicely into my last question, which is,  
  • 18:45 as some countries now begin to relax restrictions.  There's a new for focus on how we can build back  
  • 18:51 better and invest in more resilient systems. Now,  is this true for the areas we've been talking  
  • 18:56 about today? And if so, how? [Ed Olowo-Okere] 
  • 18:57 I would say yes and I would also like to say  that when we talk about building back better,  
  • 19:05 we should not just look at this in terms of  building and infrastructure. I think this is  
  • 19:13 also about building back better institutions  and systems. If you look at for instance,  
  • 19:20 the multiple shocks that governments are  experiencing as a result of this pandemic,  
  • 19:26 whether it is the health shock, the economy or  fiscal shocks. This will provide great impetus  
  • 19:35 for fundamental changes in governance. To build  back better, to address your question on the how,  
  • 19:44 to build back better governments should really be  seeking answers to question in five broad areas. 
  • 19:54 I mean that is among other things that they may  want to focus on. So one and most important is how  
  • 20:00 should the role of government change in delivering  public services going forward. How should the  
  • 20:07 role of government in managing the economy  and facilitating private sector activities?  
  • 20:12 How should that look like? What should be, for  instance, the extent of the role of government  
  • 20:17 in ownership of companies? Then another question  is, and the second one is, how should government  
  • 20:24 conduct its operations and deliver public services  going forward? This bringing the issue of digital,  
  • 20:32 GovTech solutions. To what extent do they deploy  GovTech solutions to manage their corporations and  
  • 20:39 to deliver services? Then a third question,  how should government improve public sector  
  • 20:46 productivity? This is going to be critically  important, especially given the fiscal challenges  
  • 20:52 that countries are facing. That's really  something that countries also need to focus on. 
  • 20:59 A fourth area that governments should also focus  on is how can citizens' trust in government be  
  • 21:06 enhanced? Because as I said earlier on, if trust  in government and public institutions are on their  
  • 21:14 mind, then it can render ineffective any  response that government may be making.  
  • 21:22 Ensuring trust in government from the citizens is  really very important, so how will the government  
  • 21:30 use communication, various technology tools,  engagement with different stakeholders to be  
  • 21:36 able to enhance citizens trust in government? Then  a final area of question is how can governments be  
  • 21:46 ready for a future crisis? Let's not miss the fact  that there will be another crisis so governments  
  • 21:54 need to be prepared. In terms of our governments  will take into consideration for instance,  
  • 22:01 the experience they are having with this based  on citizens demands and so on and so forth. They  
  • 22:07 should then be able to be better prepared for  a future crisis. Those are some of the areas  
  • 22:13 that I think the government should focus on in  terms of building better. This is in addition to  
  • 22:19 infrastructure and other things that governments  are having to think about at this time. 
  • 22:23 [Srimathi Sridhar] Absolutely Ed. These are all really  
  • 22:26 excellent questions. Folks, with that, we are  unfortunately out of time. I want to thank again,  
  • 22:31 my guest for this morning, Ed Olowo-Okere.  He is the director of the Governance Global  
  • 22:35 Practice here at the World Bank. Ed, it's been  a fantastic conversation. Thank you again. 
  • 22:40 [Ed Olowo-Okere] Thank you Sri. Thank you  
  • 22:42 and thanks to the audience. [Srimathi Sridhar] 
  • 22:43 Now folks, the conversation doesn't  stop here. To catch a recap of all  
  • 22:48 our coronavirus related discussions we've had  so far, head on over to live.worldbank.org and  
  • 22:54 to learn more about what the World Bank is  doing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,  
  • 22:58 be sure to check out our website it's  worldbank.org/coronavirus. Thank you  
  • 23:04 again so much for joining us this morning. Stay  healthy, stay safe, and we'll see you next time.

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