The Economic Community of West African States is trying to change a long history of corruption in the region's transportation industry. ECOWAS says due to corruption it costs more to transport goods in West Africa than anywhere else in the world. Phuong Tran reports for VOA from Dakar ECOWAS says it is working for a change.
Commercial truck drivers have long accepted that on West African roads, they have to pay bribes to the police, military and border officials.
Jacques Ylboudo has driven for the Burkinabe Merchandise Transport Company for the past 10 years.
Ylboudo says he only loses time if he tries to argue or negotiate the bribe. He says even his passengers must pay at least two dollars each. He says long delays and bribes are a part of doing business in this part of the world.
The Economic Community of West African States says it has been collecting information along the region's most heavily traveled roads for the past year. Truck drivers volunteer to answer surveys about the number of control posts they pass, how much they pay, to whom, and how long they wait.
Researchers from the U.S.-funded West Africa Trade Hub, based in Ghana, collect forms at three main roads in Burkina Faso, Mali, Togo, and Ghana.
Investment advisor Jeremy Strauss, of the U.S. Agency for International Development, says reducing corruption will increase trade flow and foreign investment. But Strauss says it is hard to measure corruption.
"It is a moving target because there are changes in the landscape of the corridor and people's experiences differ from year to year and from trip to trip," said Jeremy Strauss.
Investigators from West Africa Trade Hub recently drove through the region and found check points in Senegal were among the worst. The investigation found that for every 100 kilometers traveled, drivers paid on average $19 in bribes to get past more than seven checkpoints.
Questionnaires from last November showed the 900-kilometer drive from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso to Bamako, Mali ,was the most expensive. Drivers reported paying on average $128 in bribes at 25 checkpoints.
Driver Jacques Ylboudo says since he first started filling out surveys for the Trade Hub in late 2006, things are a little better, but he says there are still hours of delays.
He says in Ghana, police set up unofficial checkpoints on the road at night, and will disappear by the morning, along with the payments they received.
But the head of the transportation unit for Ghana's national police department, Daniel Avorca, says the problem is not only corrupt policemen, but also drivers who willingly offer bribes to stay on the road illegally.
He says many drivers want to avoid arrest and fines for not having licenses to drive commercial trucks, or registering those trucks.
"The person who offers the money so that he or she will not be prosecuted sees it as advantage over the time he may waste to go to court," said Daniel Avorca. "This phenomenon is an on-going problem that we are trying to solve. We are fighting day and night."
The West Africa Trade Hub says drivers who fill out its surveys have their proper licenses and car registrations.
Police chief Avorca says he has increased television and radio ads to ask people to report if they have been asked for bribes or offered bribes illegally, but he says most people are too scared to report because they are partly to blame.
Even so, the average number of bribes paid by drivers in Ghana went down from about $4 per 100 kilometers to about $3, according to the West Africa Trade Hub.
An official with Ghana's Ministry of Transportation, Peter Ofori-Asumadi, is a member of the country's special transportation committee. In 2005, ECOWAS set up several such committees in countries with a lot of business traffic.
He says corruption in West African road transport is hard to solve because of how many people are involved: customs, military, police, port and transportation authorities.
"As huge as it may seem, I think that if these issues are publicized, and you are not the only one who is aware, and you think you are working in secret, and now it is exposed, it may go down, if not eliminated completely," said Peter Ofori-Asumadi.
Ofori-Asumadi says that's a goal worth pursuing.