Corruption Can Kill: Why I Wanted to Work with the PTF

By Daniel Ritchie, PTF Member, Adviser and Board Member

I’ve been asked from time to time why I became interested in the issue of corruption. Having worked at the World Bank, I was aware of the corrosive effect that corruption has on economies and the real harm it does to the legitimacy of institutions and governments. But it was still rather abstract. I was never offered a bribe in my 30 years at the Bank, and only twice was I asked to pay a bribe (once to put my suitcase on an airplane and once to get a visa at a chaotic border crossing).

But then fifteen years ago I got an urgent message from my friend Moses in Kenya. His father was very ill and the doctor at the local public hospital was refusing to treat him unless he paid a fee.  It was not a large fee, maybe $200, but by the standards of Moses and his family, it was enormous. I wired the money, the father was treated and recovered, and when I visited him the following year he told me with tears in his eyes that I had saved his life.  In conversation later, Moses said this was common practice, not only among doctors, but teachers, clerks, local chiefs, police. He had started a primary school on his farm and one day the “inspectors” from the nearby town came and declared that the mud and wattle buildings did not meet code, but he could be forgiven by paying a small fine. My friend Moses is a small farmer with four acres of land. Analytical evidence suggests that poor people like Moses spend up to 5% of their income on bribes, almost twice as much as the non-poor.  It is a fact and a way of life, and he cannot do anything alone to fix it.

I have a great fondness for Kenya, in part because I was a Peace Corps Volunteer there in the 1960s and the experience convinced meto work on development.  I visit Kenya every two years to meet with students in a scholarship program I established a decade ago. They always inspire me. They cite corruption as the principal evil in their society, and they are determined to do something about it. I’ve always felt that Kenya is a middle income country behaving like a low income country because of corruption.  Anything is possible if all citizens just played by the rules.

It is for my friend Moses, his wife and ten children and everyone like him trying to get by that I have worked so happily with the Partnership for Transparency Fund for eleven years.