World Bank's Banga denies IFC cover up of abuse involving Kenya school investment
World Bank denies cover-up of sexual abuse allegations at Kenya school chain. Concerns raised over IFC's response. Calls for transparency.
On Monday, World Bank President Ajay Banga refuted accusations that the bank's International Finance Corp arm had attempted to conceal reports of sexual abuse at a profit-oriented school chain in Kenya, in which it had a stake from 2013 to 2022. Banga, speaking at a public event hosted by the Center for Global Development, disagreed with the characterization of a cover-up by the IFC when questioned about its response to an independent investigation into the allegations at Bridge International Academies.
Concerns have been raised by civil society groups that the IFC overlooked evidence of child sexual abuse at some of Bridge's schools in Kenya until the World Bank's Office of Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) received complaints from parents in 2018 and initiated an investigation. The IFC's Board of Executive Directors is expected to formally discuss an action plan this month following the CAO's findings related to the $13.5 million Bridge equity investment, which was divested in March 2022 as part of a strategy to withdraw from for-profit education.
Although the divestment occurred nearly a year before Banga assumed the position of World Bank President, he acknowledged that there were management actions that could have been improved upon. He stated that he would not preempt discussions with the board but firmly rejected the notion of a deliberate effort to cover up the situation.
Banga emphasized that if evidence of a cover-up were substantiated, he would take appropriate action, but he refused to engage in mere speculation in the public domain. As a former CEO of Mastercard, he assumed office with a commitment to redirect the World Bank's focus towards addressing climate change and other global challenges while ensuring effectiveness and responsiveness in its operations.
Bridge International Academies did not immediately respond to Reuters's comment request. The company has acknowledged some instances of sexual abuse in its Kenyan schools, albeit at rates lower than those reported in public schools in Kenya, according to a study commissioned by the firm.
Seeking transparency in the matter, U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Peter Welch urged Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in a letter last October to ensure a thorough investigation into the abuse allegations in Kenya. A Treasury official expressed profound concern and emphasized the department's commitment to transparency and accountability, condemning violence against children and other human rights violations.
IFC Managing Director Makhtar Diop stated in a letter to the non-profit group Inclusive Development International in November that the IFC was deeply disturbed by the reports of child sexual abuse and reiterated its zero-tolerance policy towards such abuse in financed projects. Diop mentioned that the IFC was reviewing the CAO report and would disclose a plan for remedial actions once approved by the board. He defended the confidentiality agreement between the IFC and Bridge as necessary for completing the CAO investigation following the divestment.
Bridge International Academies operates numerous low-cost schools in Africa and South Asia, catering to hundreds of thousands of students.