What could be more fundamental for the development of individuals and societies than ensuring that everyone, everywhere has enough to eat? Yet corruption stops countries from eliminating hunger.
The world produces enough food for everyone. Yet 815 million people are malnourished. The failure of political and economic institutions results in poor governance, weak states, corruption and dysfunctional markets. It also affects food production and restricts access to food for those who need it most.
Corruption affecting food supply in the DRC
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), food insecurity affects 7.7 million people. Opened in 2015 to grow food sustainably on 80,000 hectares of land, the Bukanga Lonzo agri-business park in Bandundu province was designed to help solve this problem. A private company, AFRICOM Commodities Ltd, won the US$150 million government contract to build and manage the park.
The project was quickly marred by allegations of mismanagement and dubious deals — levelled against both AFRICOM and the government — which severely affected the park’s ability to produce food. These problems were so severe that by 2018 production ground to a halt, leaving the country without the much-needed food that the park was meant to deliver.
The Ligue Congolaise De Lutte Contre La Corruption (LICOCO) — Transparency International’s DRC chapter — obtained a copy of a 2015 Ernst and Young audit of the project, through its Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre. It contained many accusations of corruption and made for shocking reading.
The report revealed that AFRICOM awarded construction contracts to build the park to its sister companies, without calling for tenders to achieve competitive prices and best standards. Ernst and Young said the prices paid for equipment purchased from AFRICOM sister companies were “significantly higher” than those offered by competitors. Furthermore, the infrastructure that AFRICOM had promised never materialised.
The audit also identified weak financial and administrative systems, and found irregularities in the use of government payments.
Additionally, the government has been accused of land grabbing to make way for the park. Landowners have been demanding compensation, but few have been successful.
Amid these allegations, AFRICOM has now pulled out of the project, leaving an unproductive landscape that under different circumstances could have provided food for over a hundred thousand people.
Transparency International taking action
LICOCO sent a letter to the attorney general, requesting him to investigate why the project failed. This action led him to refer the matter to the police. The criminal investigation should conclude soon, and will hopefully result in legal action against wrongdoers.
Similar abuses happen in many countries around the world, leaving millions without adequate food as corruption undermines sustainable agriculture. The United Nations has set sustainable development goals to tackle issues like this. They are ambitious targets for ending poverty and hunger, protecting the planet and ensuring peace for all by 2030.
If Sustainable Development Goal 2, which aims to eliminate hunger, is to be realistically achieved by 2030, corruption risks should be identified and counter measures implemented.
To achieve this, governments should support peace, justice and strong institutions in line with Sustainable Development Goal 16 — which addresses corruption — and should annually review Goal 16’s progress at the Sustainable Development Goals High Level Political Forum.
Transparency International’s Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres are exposing corruption and providing free legal advice and assistance to victims and witnesses of corruption. Find out more at www.transparency.org/reportcorruption. LICOCO’s Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre is partly funded by Global Affairs Canada under the IMPACT Grant.
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