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Sat June 19 2021

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Research points to corruption in major sports infrastructure

28 Jan Research by Engineers Against Poverty (EAP) claims that corruption has been a reoccurring issue in major sports infrastructure, resulting in poor quality and inflated prices.

The research looks at how to remove the infrastructure corruption legacy from Mega Sport Events (MSE) infrastructure. It assesses the issue across major events, finding concerns in project planning a lack of effective channels to report wrongdoing.

The report makes recommendations that it says are based on what has worked elsewhere. They are focused on using transparency and collaboration.

“Corruption is a major issue in MSE infrastructure delivery, contributing to cost overruns which have spiralled to staggering proportions, such as those seen in the South Africa 2010 FIFA World Cup where costs increased by 1,709%,” said EAP lead on the research, Maria da Graça Prado. “Its consequences are not only felt in monetary terms; it results in poorly constructed projects which have caused death and injury and those who expose corruption often put themselves at great risk.”

EAP is an independent organisation that focuses on how public infrastructure contributes to improving quality of life and reducing poverty.  

Its latest research is summarised in the paper, Changing the Game: A critical analysis of large-scale corruption in Mega Sport Event infrastructure projects. It looks into the common characteristics of MSEs that enable an environment prone to corruption.

The report says that infrastructure corruption is not exclusive to MSEs and has been widely recognised as a key factor in the billions wasted in the sector per year. Yet the issues are exacerbated in MSEs, it said, where decision-making is politicised, logistics highly complex and accountability very low.

These issues include complex contracting due to contracts spanning both national and international levels, not helped by the absence of efficient contract management systems. Increased interaction between public and private contractors is another factor which, in the instance of MSEs, has encouraged collusion between these stakeholders, says the EAP report.

In addition, the cyclical nature of MSEs can incentivise corruption, where stakeholders are guaranteed a regular source of income and past behaviour is observed and repeated, according to the report.

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Levels of data disclosed in the public domain are low and online data platforms, which can play a key role in increasing data accessibility, are used only infrequently used. Effective monitoring mechanisms to help scrutinise the data are also lacking, says the report.

Using evidence of what has worked in other contexts, the paper includes recommendations that it says could overhaul corruption in MSE infrastructure if adopted.

Open Contracting for Infrastructure Data Standard (OC4IDS) could significantly heighten data transparency, it says. OC4IDS can be integrated with existing government systems and allow data to be compared from across contractors, helping to encourage honest bidding.

To address poor project planning – one of the major contributors to cost and time overruns in the sector – host governments could partner with a project preparation facility in their bid for the events to create a robust planning process with an accurate budget and to ensure preparedness from the outset.

Other recommendations to improve performance and report on bad behaviour include encouraging more openness and a scoring system between contractors and clients and adequate whistle-blower mechanisms.

Including these and other measures as an obligation in the infrastructure project bidding stage would ensure they materialise and are used, says the report.

Corruption is a common issue in MSE infrastructure delivery, says EAP, adding that it often costs lives, is a heavy burden to taxpayers and results in poor quality infrastructure. “Recommendations outlined in the paper could significantly change the game, to deliver infrastructure that genuinely serves communities and leaves a positive legacy,” it says.

Changing the game: A critical analysis of large-scale corruption in Mega Sport Event infrastructure projects is the second of a three-part series looking at the key issues in MSE infrastructure delivery. Part one of the series looked at labour issues and part three will focus on promoting accountability.

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