World Bank bars Acres International over Lesotho water project

Julie Ziegler
July 23, 2004

Acres International, a closely held Canadian engineering company, was barred from seeking World Bank contracts for three years after the lender said Acres bribed government officials in the African nation of Lesotho to get favorable treatment on a water project.

“The World Bank’s sanctions committee found that Acres engaged in corrupt activities for the purpose of influencing the decision making of the then chief executive of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority,” which oversaw the project, the bank said in a statement.

The World Bank is facing growing pressure from the U.S., its largest shareholder, to address corruption and ensure loans from the institution are spent as intended. The bank, which approved $11 billion in new loans last year, is the biggest financer of projects to developing countries.

Acres, which has about 700 employees, is “deeply disappointed,” with the World Bank’s decision, company spokeswoman Indira Conroy said.

“The events in Lesotho occurred 10-15 year ago and the five-year period over which Acres has responded to the allegations has been very trying for our employees,” she said, adding that current senior management is completely different than from the time under question.

The World Bank action concerns two contracts Acres received in 1987 and 1991 to work on the Lesotho Highland Water Project, an $8 billion plan to transfer water from the land-locked nation to South Africa.

More than 220 firms and individuals have been barred from World Bank-financed projects since the lender established a sanctions committee in 1998.

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