india is set to make another round of changes in procurement norms for health schemes funded by World Bank loans. This follows the bank's review of Indian projects running on its loans, highlighting corrupt practices in procurement of drugs and other items by the government and drug companies. While such practices are well known--the bank's own reviews have repeatedly mentioned them--the timing of the latest review has raised eyebrows.
Public health researchers doubt the bank's motive the review is more about wresting control than removing corruption. There are suggestions that it's about getting the bank's favourite firms on board. How this will arrest corruption is not clear. In 2006, Pricewater-houseCoopers had appraised the bank's review system, finding it inadequate.
The schemes had recently completed five-year cycles, and were up for renewal. In fact, the bank has already sanctioned the next lot of funds, but hasn't released them. This is where the questions arise. When the bank knew of corruption all along, why did it continue funding projects for years? The bank reviews projects every six months. What's the point if they don't help check corruption?
The striking aspect of these reviews--conducted by consultants at the bank's high rates--is that they are paid for out of loans. Independent reviews show that up to 20 per cent of loans is spent on consultants.
Around that time, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare realized it was time for another government agency, and decided to call it the Empowered Procurement Wing. A British consultant, Crown Agent, was en-gaged to streamline procurement. All solutions featured foreign agencies. Little attention has gone into a investigation and punishment.
If the bank wanted to clean up health schemes, it would have tried to bring the guilty to the book. But it provides nothing for criminal proceedings and is not usable as evidence in a court. Nor does it identify corrupt officials and suppliers. After the bank released the long-term review, health secretary Naresh Dayal has announced a probe.
Which is why when the bank talks about corruption in the Indian government, it doesn't sound convincing.
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