In their Sept. 12 letter regarding corruption allegations in the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), Callisto E. Madavo and Jean-Louis Sarbib of the World Bank claim they are "determined to help African countries fight corruption." We, as members of nongovernmental organizations in Lesotho, appreciate this sentiment.
We are troubled, however, by their failure to promise World Bank sanctions against the 12 multinational corporations accused of bribing the former chief executive of the LHWP. What better way is there to "fight corruption" than to punish the big companies that tempt us "poor" Africans with big bribes?
Mr. Madavo and Mr. Sarbib also claim that the project is "helping poor communities in Lesotho through a social fund" set up with LHWP revenues. Unfortunately, this is not our perception here on the ground. The fund has been and continues to be a tool of opportunistic politicians. Although the committee designated to select projects to be supported by the social fund has not yet met, money from the fund has been used to support ill-conceived projects built by workers hired according to political party affiliation.
In Lesotho we see the same stretch of road repaired, torn up the next week, repaired again the following week and then torn up once more at the end of the month. We see workers increase the height of unused dams and then cut spillways in them that effectively reduce their carrying capacities to their original levels. These projects are supported by the LHWP's social fund. Is this how large development projects "serve the poor"?
We do support the LHWP, but we are beginning to question the openness and care with which it was prepared. Punishing the corrupt multinationals involved with the LHWP and closely monitoring the implementation of the project's social fund would reassure us of the World Bank's concern. If Mr. Madavo and Mr. Sarbib want to serve the "poor," they can help us to challenge the existing power and economic relations that keep us "poor."
Transformation Resource Centre
Highlands Church Solidarity and Action Centre