World Bank Aid and Corruption

Here’s the now infamous paper that the World Bank is alleged to have tried to censor, actions that led its Chief Economist Penny Golberg to resign in protest. The paper finds that increases in World Bank aid is correlated with the siphoning of cash to offshore financial centres.

Do elites capture foreign aid? We document that aid disbursements to highly aid dependent countries coincide with sharp increases in bank deposits in offshore financial centers known for bank secrecy and private wealth management, but not in other financial centers. The estimates are not confounded by contemporaneous shocks such as civil conflicts, natural disasters and financial crises, and are robust to instrumenting with predetermined aid commitments. The implied leakage rate is 7.5% at the sample mean and exhibits a strong correlation with the ratio of aid to GDP. Our findings are consistent with aid capture in the most aid-dependent countries.

….In this paper, we study aid diversion by combining quarterly information on aid disbursements from the World Bank (WB) and foreign deposits from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS). The former dataset covers all disbursements made by the World Bank to finance development projects and provide general budget support in its client countries. The latter dataset covers foreign-owned deposits in all significant financial centers, both havens such as Switzerland, Luxembourg, Cayman Islands and Singapore whose legal framework emphasizes secrecy and asset protection and non-havens such as Germany, France and Sweden.Screen Shot 2020-02-18 at 9.22.48 AM

Equipped with this dataset, we study whether aid disbursements trigger money flows to foreign bank accounts. In our main sample comprising the 22 most aid-dependent countries in the world (in terms of WB aid), we document that disbursements of aid coincide, in the same quarter, with significant increases in the value of bank deposits in havens. Specifically, in a quarter where a country receives aid equivalent to 1% of GDP, its deposits in havens increase by 3.4% relative to a country receiving no aid; by contrast, there is no increase in deposits held in non-havens. While other interpretations are possible, these findings are suggestive of aid diversion to private accounts in havens.

The paper finds that project financing (which is arguably easier for the Bank to monitor) is associated with more leakage than general policy financing. The poorest countries see the most leakage.

Our estimates suggest a leakage rate of around 7.5% for the average highly aid-dependent country.

Read the whole thing here.

UPDATE: The World Bank has since agreed to publish the working paper. 

h/t Matt Collin

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