Africa cities

Tremendous Corruption Pressures Facing African Urban Planners: Some Responses

Corruption is generally defined as the abuse of entrusted power for personal gain.

Understanding and tackling city-wide corruption is crucial as cities increasingly house a large portion of the world’s population. According to the United Nations, more than two thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. The fastest urban growth is occurring in Africa and Asia.

In our Cities of Integrity Project, we worked with planners and their respective professional organizations in South Africa and Zambia. The objective was to understand how they experience and manage corruption in their daily practice. We also sought to imagine creative ways in which their professional community could play a role in strengthening transparency and collective accountability.

As we explain in this animated video, corruption in urban development can lead to dysfunctional infrastructure that does not meet public needs. It also embeds injustice in urban systems for decades.

Urban real estate is worth more than the combined value of stocks, bonds and equities worldwide and – especially in times of economic volatility – is a popular asset class. The immense fortune that can be made from urban land and real estate also attracts unsavory characters eager to bend the rules.

In this complex context, urban planners attempt to maintain a balance between public needs and private interests. This makes them particularly vulnerable to corrupt influences. This is because they allocate development rights – through zoning, for example. They also decide on the location of key public infrastructure such as roads or schools. Such decisions have a significant impact on the value of land and the price of property. They can generate significant windfall profits.

Under pressure

In our online surveynearly half (46%) of 113 South African planners said they had been asked at least once to ignore or violate a planning rule, policy or procedure to achieve a particular outcome.

A similar proportion – 43% – indicated that colleagues, superiors or senior officials had a personal interest in planning the activities they supervised, at least occasionally.

Among our 98 Zambian respondents, these numbers were even higher. 73% had been asked to favor a particular party in their decision-making.

In both countries, planners reported political interference as a major obstacle to maintaining professional integrity. This was a more common complaint for Zambian planners.

For their South African counterparts, the greatest concern was the lack of capacity and efficiency of local administration. As a respondent lamented:

Politicians don’t understand surveillance. There’s a very thin line between surveillance and interference, and they can’t tell the difference between the two.

Foster professional integrity

In both countries, the majority of planners also believed that land was frequently grabbed by powerful interest groups with impunity. For example, only 15% of South African planners believed that the general public or poorer groups in society benefited the most from urban development. Here, our results also correspond to recent figures from the independent pan-African research network Afrobarometer.

He revealed that 67% of the general public in South Africa believed the wealthy were very likely to get away with bribing officials to falsely register land that did not belong to them.

Finally, South African and Zambian planners demonstrated low levels of confidence in the effectiveness of current compliance-focused anti-corruption measures. A widespread feeling was that certain planning codes were “out of touch with reality”. They also believed that no procedure could compensate for a lack of ethical principle. As Crispian Olver, acclaimed public affairs author and former city official, aptly noted in one of our public round tables:

A transparent system, run by people without integrity, is just as corrupt.

Nevertheless, the majority of South African and Zambian planners still felt a strong sense of public utility in their work. Here, our data supports the idea advocated by public affairs scholars Wendy Hayes and Beth Gazley that professional networks can help to enforce positive value systems and thus help to proactively fight corruption.

In both countries, respondents consider professional training courses on ethics and integrity to be priority measures to be taken by their respective professional associations. However, as our research shows, in order for such initiatives not to become ‘tick-box exercises’, it is important to first understand the local planning context and its specific corruption pressures, before developing appropriate tactics and tools to reinforce professional integrity.

Collective responsibility

While our research suggests that professional integrity has an important role to play in tackling urban corruption, we also recognize that individual behavioral changes alone are not enough to address the challenges of urban corruption on the continent. . Legal reforms obsolete planning laws, civil service reforms and greater transparency in procurement processes will be equally necessary.

Nevertheless, we argue that professional networks can play a key role in strengthening the collective responsibility of planners and supporting them become champions of urban integrity.

Laura Nkula-WenzTeacher and Researcher at the African Center for Cities, University of Cape Town

This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read it original article.