World Bank taking a leaf out of Westminster’s book on expenses

Here in Britain, the fallout from recent revelations about MPs’ expenses continues. Meanwhile, it seems that World Bank officials have been up to similar tricks. Admittedly we cynics may scoff at their lack of imagination – after all, they haven’t been buying birdhouses or maintaining their moats with public funds. But Peter Bosshard at International Rivers, reviewing a book by former Bank staffer Steve Berkman, highlights some dubious claims all the same (hat tip: Bretton Woods Project). Berkman’s book:

reports how Nigerian officials charged $2,200 for 18 cups of tea and snacks at a roadside stall under a World Bank loan (and got away with it). A project office with eight staff in the same country charged a switchboard for 60 telephones, 48 air conditioners, 14 shredders and 12 refrigerators to the operating expenses of another Bank project – all at prices well above the going market rates. They also claimed expenses for television and video sets at 249,999 Naira apiece – more than ten times the equipment’s street value, but just one Naira less than the amount which triggers stricter controls.

Few will be surprised to hear about World Bank money disappearing – Berkman quotes an internal report which found that ‘stealing from Bank funds is the rule, not the exception’. But all the same (and perhaps I’m being naïve), one would have thought that World Bank employees would have enough problems with the endemic low-level fraud that their organisation is known for, without contributing to it themselves. Of course, unlike British parliamentarians, World Bank officials aren’t politicians and being insulated by their institution, will never have to face the wrath of the public.