Issue No.1326, 5 January, 2017      03-01-2017 10:23AM ET

Battling corruption

Bribery has grabbed public attention in recent months, reports Ahmed Morsy

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“We are fighting corruption which hampers all our development efforts,” President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi told the closing session of last month’s Youth Dialogue.

“We are determined, through a well-organised strategy, to uproot all causes of corruption and we are intensifying the capabilities of monitoring agencies by expanding the use of modern technology and overhauling the legal and legislative system.”

Last week Al-Sisi used a speech during the inauguration of a fish farm in Ismailia to underline the point, once again throwing the spotlight on fighting corruption and adding that as president he was ready to be held accountable in any case of wrongdoing. “We do not want to take a lot of time in fighting this disease [corruption]. We must act quickly. There is a lot of work to do,” he said.

Al-Sisi praised the role played by the Administrative Control Authority (ACA), the regulatory body responsible for enforcing laws and regulations within state bodies. “I want to thank [the ACA] during the difficult phase we are going through. When we said we will fight corruption, we were serious,” he said.

He commented directly on the arrest on bribery charges of the head of the procurement department at the State Council, saying: “I hope that the case tackled by the media in the past couple of days will be taken as a public-opinion issue to counter corruption and as a pretext to insult anyone.”

Gamal Al-Labban, head of procurement at the State Council, was arrested on 27 December and charged with receiving bribes in the form of money and gold. Images of seized assets, including large piles of cash, have gone viral on social media in Egypt. Al-Labban was arrested after the ACA searched his home and found LE24 million, $4 million, 2 million euros and one million Saudi riyals in cash and a large hoard of gold items. Further investigations uncovered a portfolio of real estate assets.

The situation was muddied on Sunday when reports appeared that Wael Shalaby, the State Council’s secretary general, had committed suicide. Shalaby had resigned his position a day earlier after being detained pending investigation by the Higher State Security prosecution in the same case.

Though Egypt’s Penal Code criminalises corruption, in the past leading government officials are thought to have taken bribes with impunity.

“All contracts signed by the State Council during the last five years are being examined for any evidence of impropriety,” the council said in a statement. It stressed that it would “not gloss over any incident of corruption”.

According to a statement issued by the ACA Shalaby was arrested after evidence of his accepting a bribe emerged during the course of investigations into the Al-Labban case.

After news of Shalaby’s suicide broke the prosecutor general announced a ban on reporting of the case.

The State Council — the Higher Administrative Court — has been involved in some of the highest profile legal cases in Egypt in recent years. The latest case is adjudicating concerns of the legality or otherwise of the controversial maritime border demarcation agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In June the council overturned the agreement, signed by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, which hands control of the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.

In December the prosecutor ordered the detention of the Egyptian Company for Agriculture and Rural Development’s chairman pending investigation of charges he accepted a LE214,000 bribe. In November the ACA reported it had uncovered six major corruption cases in the previous19 days.

Earlier in the same month prosecution authorities ordered the detention of the Giza’s Housing Director pending investigations into suspected bribery. In October the ACA arrested the director general of the Northern Sinai Reconstruction Authority on suspicion of graft.

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