Written by David Lowder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – World Bank President Ajay Banga said on Monday that the World Bank's International Finance Corporation arm tried to cover up reports of sexual abuse at a chain of for-profit schools in Kenya that it funded from 2013 to 2022. denied the suspicion.
Asked at a public event at the Center for International Development about IFC's response to the independent investigation into the Bridge International Academy allegations, Banga said he disagreed with IFC's characterization of a cover-up.
Civil society groups say IFC was investigating child sexual abuse in some Kenyan schools in Bridge until the World Bank's Compliance Advisor Ombudsman Office (CAO) launched an investigation following complaints from parents in 2018. He expressed concern that evidence had been ignored.
IFC's Board of Directors will formally discuss a plan of action this month following the CAO's findings regarding a $13.5 million bridge equity investment sold in March 2022 as part of a plan to exit for-profit education. .
The sale came almost a year before Mr. Banga was named to the World Bank's top post, but Mr. Banga will have to deal with the fallout as he seeks to improve the financial institution's operations.
“I think there are some things that management could have done better, and those will be discussed with the board soon,” Banga said in response to an audience question on the matter.
“So I'm not going to pre-empt that. I just don't agree that there was a legal effort to cover it up. I don't accept that as a question,” he added. .
If the cover-up turns out to be true, I will take all necessary measures, but if it is just speculation in public, I will refuse to register. If so, I’m sorry.’ I don’t like that,” Banga said.
Banga, a former chief executive of Mastercard, took over in June with a mandate to transform the World Bank's mission to combat climate change and other global crises. He pledged to make the World Bank more agile and to focus more on improving lives in the process.
Bridge did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. The company admitted in a study commissioned by Tanza Child Protection Consultancy that there had been some sexual abuse in Kenyan schools, but the rate was much lower than in Kenya's public schools.
Pursuit of transparency
In a letter last October, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Peter Welch urged Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to take the necessary steps to thoroughly investigate the Kenyan abuse allegations.
A Treasury official said the ministry was “deeply concerned and alarmed that children may have been sexually abused in connection with the IFC project.”
The official said the Treasury Department “strongly condemns” violence against children and other human rights violations, calls for transparency and accountability in investigations, and calls for policy changes based on lessons learned.
“Treasury has been working with IFC management and the CAO to understand what went wrong, given IFC’s robust policies aimed at preventing or detecting such harm. “We similarly believe that any threat, real or perceived, to the CAO's independence is unacceptable,” the official told Reuters in an emailed statement.
“I'm extremely upset.”
IFC Managing Director Mahtar Diop said in a November letter to the nonprofit organization Inclusive Development International that IFC was “deeply disturbed” by reports of child sexual abuse, adding, We will not tolerate any form of abuse in our projects.” . ”
Diop said the IFC is reviewing the CAO's report regarding misconduct at Bridge and will publish a plan for “corrective action” if approved by the board. He said the confidentiality agreement between IFC and Bridge, which has been criticized by civil society groups, was designed to allow the CAO to complete post-sale investigations.
Bridge International Academies operates hundreds of low-cost schools in Africa and South Asia, serving hundreds of thousands of students.
(Reporting by David Lowder)