The quickest way to become rich is to accept corruption or actively practice it. This is universal, and is not specific to Africa.
From oil tycoons to government officials, very few have become rich because of hard work and integrity. Receiving and granting favors illegally is what makes a small group of citizens the wealthiest, with the biggest houses, alluring cars and private jets.
Though the dream of million of hustlers is to become rich, the conventional route of corruption and dubious deals has a very negative impact on our country. It makes it collectively poorer, mismanaged, and ultimately delays the social and economical progress we all wish for.
The biggest question still is, who will be the first to deny himself or herself good life because of public or common good?
All the world countries we admire had the courage to curb rampant corruption in order to make progress. Beyond the well-known kickback scheme, here are the top 13 corruption schemes I’ve heard of or witnessed during my 20 years of career in both private and public sectors.
My intention here is to shed light into dark corners to facilitate public awareness, but also action.
1. False order and invoicing: A manager places an order for goods or services. The goods are delivered and received, but later returned to the supplier as cancelled unofficially, with or without the complicity of the supplier. The invoice money is paid to the corrupted manager in the meantime.
In a smilier manner, a manager requires a consulting service. The service is started and the consultant is paid the first part of his fees, usually around 15 to 30%. Once the first consultation report is received, the contract is canceled unofficially, and the manager pockets the 70% remainder.
Another variant of this scheme works as follows: a call for proposals is published. Bids are received. A winner is selected but never be notified. A contract is signed with the not notified ‘winner’ with forged signatures, and invoices paid to him officially. However, all the contract money ends up in the pocket of the company managers.
2. Phantom projects: A minister needed money. He got his team to create few projects. He has good friends as directors of international development organizations. He is well-aware that international development money is mainly for corruption.
He submitted the projects to those friendly organizations and got few of them funded. He pocketed the money received and sent false reports and accounting documents.
I have personally witnessed this scheme used by senior project mangers in international development agencies. They created good sounding projects, got the funding, but pocketed the money while delivering false reports.
Most of the development agencies are paper-compliant organizations. Once you know what papers they like and how to forge them, it’s an open season to enjoy free money donated by goodwill people from foreign countries.
3. Untraceable gift: During a sales negotiation on a medium-sized contract, the purchase manager kept telling the provider: “Do you watch TV? My daughter loves technology. She’d love the latest smart TV from Samsung. They look really great.”
Though everything was ready for the deal to be sealed, the manager postponed several times the signature of the contract.
The supplier got the message. He got an anonymous gift delivered to the manager’s house the next day. It was a large Samsung smart TV. The sales contract was signed later the same day.
4. False inventory: The managing team of an international project has stolen millions of naira provisioned to buy equipments. The external audit time of the project is looming. A group of experts will visit the project sites soon.
The managing team does not panic. They call a friendly contact who has a rental shop with the materials they should have bought. Few days before the audit, the materials are shipped to different sites. The audit goes well. Everything is in place and according to the budget.
After the experts leave, the rent shop owner comes to take back his materials in exchange of a good bribe.
Another variant of this scheme is to mark good-working equipment as broken and needing replacement. False orders are made and the money is pocketed in the meantime.
5. The cash bags: Former Togo president was famous for paying people in kilo of money. He would send military trucks to the central bank to bring him big boxes of cash. He would then sit like a king and order one of his loyal servants to give a visitor “five kilos of 5,000 notes,” and to another visitor ” ten kilos of 10,000 notes,” etc. The higher the kilos and the notes numbers, the happier the visitor.
The practice does not exist anymore, but cash wallets are still prevalent. It’s impossible to do business in many African countries without keeping a big bag of cash at home or at office.
I’ve even seen a senior manager of company with two fridges in this office. One works like a normal fridge with drinks and food, but the other one is a subterfuge to stock cash for business deals.
Brown envelops are the most civilized version of this scheme.
6. The ghost provider: A young professional in a local chamber of commerce has been recruited as a research assistant and business analyst. He is very competent and very ambitious, but he thinks he is not paid enough. So, when his boss gives him a list of topics to research, he pretends he is incompetent on few key topics and proceeds to falsely convince his boss that he would need to consult few external experts on those matters.
In fact, the dubious professional has created a consulting firm with few accomplices, and would contract his own firm for those external consultations.
He joked at times: “At night, I do the research, and in the morning, I hand it to my boss. I earn good money that way”.
He is now driving a good car, and has built his own house in a short time.
A lady working in a well-known international organization does the same. She has created half a dozen companies on the side which win most of the suppliers contracts her organization grants. Once the contracts are granted, she would directly manage a network of subcontractors to provide the goods or services. She uses her office to manage her many commercial activities and often pockets 40 to 70% of the contracts amount.
7. The ‘Chinese surprise’: The Chinese have developed and spread some of the most creative and effective corruption schemes in Africa, without the need of secret societies and alumni networks like the French, Americans, and the British.
The ‘Chinese surprise’ consists of buying in advance a decent real estate (house, apartment or terrain) with the name of target person to corrupt as owner, and during a visit to his office or home, hand him or her the house key or ownership papers.
The perfect phrase the Chinese use in the circumstance with smile is: “This is a small gift to start our long relationship with good benefit for you and for us”.
The surprise gift could also be a car, a voyage, an invitation to a summer university or an international conference.
The Chinese are very creative but also much more secretive and effective. They also lack the arrogance of Westerners which makes them more likable.
8. The ‘full mouth’: A service provider to an eastern African government got a lucrative contract to upgrade the public radio broadcasting infrastructures. The contract included purchase of new equipment, also installation, testing and internal approval of the upgraded network by the technical staff of the national broadcaster.
The provider instantly knew that the most difficult part of the contract is the internal approval process. The approvals could be intentionally delayed, and he would be blackmailed for bribes in order to get the necessary approvals to be paid.
The provider project manager instantly thought about the best way to deal with the issue. He decided to contract the technical staff of the broadcaster for the new equipment installation, instead of using a third party company, as initially planned.
He secretly convinced a team of ten senior technicians from the broadcaster to do the installation during their job time for a good compensation. The technicians accepted.
Things went smoothly and made good business sense for the provider. The technicians who would later maintain the network were the ones who have installed the new equipments. The provider got all approvals almost instantly and got paid in time.
9. Scholarships and invitations: Offering full scholarship to children of African politicians is still one of the most effective corruption schemes used by Western regimes to corrupt local elite and governments in Africa.
Most African families still dream to send their kids to study abroad, specially in Europe and the United States. For Western regimes, having the children of corrupt Africans rulers in custody from three to five years represents very good bargaining power for mining rights, access to public markets and infrastructure projects allocation.
One international organization director I know used to offer scholarship to African representatives before annual votes on the organization budget and approval of independent accounting audit documents. The scheme helped him so well. He became very popular and always got favorable votes for his administration.
Invitations to conferences and seminars are another clever scheme often used to enlist and recruit emerging young African leaders into to the Western influence network. The young leaders are pampered and would receive acknowledgement or awards beyond their real achievement.
10. Restaurant and hospitality business: Corrupted rulers with lot of cash and eager to gain some respectability often venture into business.
Their favorite businesses are real estate and restoration. Money could be easily laundered through these channels as no one asks how many people had really eaten in a restaurant this month, or how much it has really cost you to build your house.
11. Art collection is another well-known corruption scheme which is slowly making its ways down to Lagos and Nairobi.
The increasing difficulty to launder money abroad has made business investment an attractive field of interest for corrupt managers and politicians.
12. Advertising agency: The latest corruption scheme I have heard of is a clever way of transferring public money into private hands while everything looks clean on paper.
Under the impulse of the World Bank and the IMF, many African states have created numerous public agencies managed as a business unit, following best business practices, unhindered by public administration rules. Some clever individuals have discovered they could make lot of money by creating advertising companies which would provide consulting and services to these public companies.
In one case, as high as 20 to 30% of the public company revenues are transferred to corrupt officials and their families through advertising deals.
No one has ever been put in prison for bad advertising results.
13. Don’t bribe the judge, bribe the prison manager: It’s now ‘old style’ to corrupt the judge if you have a bad case. Let the judge do his job, but later, go to bribe the prison manager to let the prisoner out. Judges are not going to prison to count prisoners, neither is the minister of interior security. Everything is checked on paper, and on paper, everything is clean.