How Britain makes Tanzania poorer and more corrupt

Tuesday, 9 February 2010
Richard Dowden

So now we know a little more. We always knew that in 2001 Britain’s BAE systems sold Tanzania a £28 million air traffic control system. The World Bank and the International Civil Aviation Organisation said it was unnecessarily sophisticated and overpriced. Some calculated it was four times the cost of what Tanzania actually needed. Tony Blair personally pushed the deal. Clare Short, the Dfid Minister, opposed it.
Now we know that BAE paid $11 million to “an agent” to help get the Tanzanian government to buy the more expensive system. BAE has now paid some £288 million to courts in Britain and America to close the investigation and cover up the truth which a court case would have exposed.
So Tanzania has not only wasted as much as £21 million which should have gone to build schools, roads, clinics and generally reduce poverty, it has also been corrupted by Britain. Powerful and corrupt Tanzanians – and if the court case had gone ahead the Tanzanian people might find out who the ministers and officials were – are now more powerful and much richer. Corruption breeds corruption and I believe it is one of the most potent factors holding Africa back and preventing development. 
Corruption almost certainly kills more people than terrorism and the drug trade combined. The more public funds – some of them our taxes – that go into the offshore bank accounts of corrupt officials and politicians, the less goes on health, education and development. That loss kills people.
And our taxes earmarked for the Department for International Development are diverted to the Home Office because it is apparently too poor to pursue corruption cases. Apparently overseas bribery and corruption is not a high enough priority for the police so they have to be subsidised by Dfid to pursue the criminals.
BAE on the other hand is exceptionally close to the military and security departments of the British government. Clare Short strongly believed at the time there had been bribery in Tanzania. She was right. Blair called Africa – “a scar on the conscience of the world”? Maybe that should Tanzania - the scar on his conscience.

Read a full version of this article, 'Corruption is the killer that we all ignore', on The Times, February 8, 2010