May 4, 2012

Country counts the cost of corruption

Media reports about Mozambique usually paint a rosy picture of a country with a soaring economy, a young but stable democracy and a bright future. But beneath the happy headlines, Mozambique's long-term prospects are being severely undermined by corruption and impunity within the public sector and particularly the education sector - which could cost the country its future.
This is the alarming conclusion of an in-depth study entitled Effective Delivery of Public Services in the Education Sector, which was produced by the Africa Governance and Monitoring and Advocacy Project (AfriMAP), the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) and Cruzeiro do Sul.

According to the study, there is a strong public perception that there is a lack of political will to tackle the issue, which continues to negatively affect public service delivery, especially in the education sector - and threatens to reverse many of the gains made since independence. The report points to a host of improvements in the education system in the past twenty years. Plagued by illiteracy rates of up to 90 percent due to racist colonial policies and with much of its school infrastructure destroyed during 16 years of civil war, Mozambique faced a daunting task to get its education system functioning. But it succeeded.

By identifying education as the nation's top priority and pumping the lion's share of the national budget into the sector, the government was responsible for boosting the literacy rate to 50 percent and pushing the net primary school enrolment rate up from a third to almost half.

But Mozambique's education system now faces another serious challenge - corruption. And the education system is not only being weakened by the diversion of funds but also by a number of less obvious and less acknowledged forms of corruption, which are particularly prevalent in the education sector. The report quotes a government official who admitted that corruption was rife in the process of managing school admissions and enrolments, and in career progression as well as in the allocation of resources and the awarding of building contracts. Additionally, sexual extortion for good grades - mostly of girls by male teachers - remains common practice.

Highlighting all these concerns, the study calls on the Mozambican government to put in place anti-corruption legislation, approve the Whistle Blower Protection Law and operationalise the Access to Information law to empower citizens to play their part in combating corruption. The study also calls for the authorities to ensure that resources are properly managed by improving the procurement systems and strengthening oversight institutions such as parliamentary committees.

Along with a genuine, public commitment to tackle corruption, these recommendations would help to end the culture that has taken root in the public sector and that is threatening to undermine all the progress that has been made over the past twenty years. (Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa)

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