THE BLOG

Open Letter to Resource-Rich Kleptocratic Dictators

You know who you are. Collectively, you loot billions from the abundant resources of your countries. You ship the money overseas to support your lavish lifestyle now and to fund your retirement abroad when it becomes necessary. All while your fellow-citizens live with poverty, dangerously unsanitary conditions, environmental degradation, inadequate health care, shoddy schools and underpaid civil servants who employ their own, pettier version of your corrupt tactics. I am visiting several of your prominent West African guild members this week, -- driving on dusty, unpaved roads, losing electricity at intervals, hassled by grasping border guards and hearing people everywhere ask "what can be done"?

Something can be done.

Three percent. I propose that you tax yourselves 3% of all that you loot and invest it in your country's future. Three percent would make a real and immediate difference in the lives of your citizens.

Now, I know that being a dictator is expensive. You have cronies to pay, judges to influence and militia to buy and all that requires money. Under my proposal you'd still have 97% of your haul for that.

I'd propose some ground rules for this experiment: the money should be held in a fully transparent account with all deposits and withdrawals recorded on a publicly-available website. Civil society, for those of you who still permit civil society, should determine the top fifty priorities, whether they are schools, hospitals, infrastructure or support for small businesses. All contracts should be put out to bid transparently and all should require a local component to build your country's capacity; the money should not simply be shipped overseas to foreign contractors.

The contractors themselves should be required to adhere to strict standards in their subcontract bidding processes. They can't simply hire your cronies at inflated salaries in the usual way. They must be held to strict schedules and clear deliverables and must make their own books available for review. Contractual audit rights will be exercised at least annually by an international firm, which will make its report public. Contract disputes will be heard by an international arbitral panel, rather than in local courts.

You'll have to commit personally to keep the locusts at bay, creating a hotline and meaningful penalties for any customs official, immigration officer, building inspector, policeman, or other government functionary who tries to enrich himself at the expense of these public projects. Grand projects of this kind invite corruption on a grand scale. Improving the wages and enhancing the training of your government employees may well be one of the first projects identified.

I am not proposing philanthropy. It's their money, after all, and this letter wouldn't be necessary if there were any evidence of your charitable nature. Instead, I propose this as an investment. It's good business and good politics. It's good business because healthier, more contented citizens make better employees than the disgruntled violent and rebellion-prone communities we see emerging in resource-rich countries. Multinationals want to invest in your countries, but kidnappers and saboteurs are discouraging.

It's good politics because your citizens' expectations are so low that it will be easy to achieve great popularity by doing very little. You may even be able to put aside less for your ultimate, violent departure to a country with no extradition treaties by securing a peaceful retirement in your own homeland. And, by then, your homeland may be a country fit to live in. You gamble just 3%, but the potential return on your investment is far greater. Get this right, and they'll be celebrating you with international prizes and naming schools and hospitals after you.

Willingly, this time.