Bank's world

Published: Friday 15 February 2008

some of India's critical public health schemes have a long track record of corruption. The World Bank has a long record of hiring expensive consultants to tell us so. In this cynical theatre arrives another review by the bank of health programmes funded by its loans. It tells us how corruption dogs procurement of drugs and other essentials under programmes designed to deal with serious diseases like tuberculosis, malaria and hiv/aids.

The handling of these schemes by successive governments in India is indefensible. There has been no concerted effort to weed out corruption and make these programmes deliver--the health problems they address concern the socio-economic health of India. But before we rush to flog the government with a copy of the bank's review, it is worth hearing from public health professionals outside the World Bank's consultancy circuit. Several of them view the bank's actions with suspicion. The bank is not interested in weeding out corruption from these schemes, they apprehend. Rather, it is a way to clip the Indian government's corrupt wings and bring in the bank's favoured agencies and corporations.

The review is utterly useless for anybody who wants to clean up the corruption in health schemes. It is not admissible in a court of law and it does not name people guilty of corruption. Rather, the bank seems ever eager to push through its own set of purchase and procurement methods, which need not necessarily be corruption-free. A range of international drug companies and medical equipment suppliers are as eager as India's own corrupt officials and politicians to profit out of public health schemes. The bank opens the gates for them.

The World Bank is looking for greater control, not a more accountable and transparent system. And it does this with funds that come out of its loans. These reviews, which don't realistically contribute to a better health programme, are ultimately underwritten by India's public funds.

If India's health programmes can be compared to a patient suffering from a serious ailment, the bank's advice is to dump her and get someone who is easier to treat. And who shops in its favoured markets.

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