Wednesday,20 September, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1358, (24 August - 6 September 2017)
Wednesday,20 September, 2017
Issue 1358, (24 August - 6 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

An anti-corruption strategy

The 75th anniversary of the founding of the Central Auditing Agency serves as a reminder that much more work is needed to end graft in the public sector, writes Gamal Essam El-Din

 

the Central Auditing Agency
the Central Auditing Agency

The Central Auditing Agency (CAA), Egypt’s main anti-corruption watchdog, celebrated its 75th anniversary on Monday. President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, who attended the celebration, praised the CAA’s role in combating corruption and helping improve public finances.

Since it was created the CAA has been instrumental in supervising the country’s finances, improving the performance of the executive authority and guaranteeing proper management of public revenues and expenditures, President Al-Sisi wrote in the CAA’s visitors’ book.

The CAA marked its 75th anniversary as Egypt is implementing an ambitious IMF-inspired economic reform programme which seeks to reduce the budget deficit, combat corruption and cut domestic and foreign debt.

Commentators have long argued that for the ACC to be effective in combating public sector corruption it needs to be protected from political manipulation.

When privatisation programmes began in the 1990s the ACC played a leading role in uncovering corruption in government-owned banks and public sector companies. Independent MP Abdel-Moneim Al-Oleimi, deputy head of parliament’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said the CAA’s success in fighting corruption in the 1990s was a result of it operating under the purview of parliament. “When, in 1999, [former president Hosni] Mubarak decided to place the CAA under the president’s jurisdiction it lost its independence and its effectiveness,” says Al-Oleimi.

Egypt’s 2014 constitution restored independence and allocated greater powers to watchdog institutions like the CAA, the Administrative Control Authority (ACA) and the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE).

“The president is allowed to name the heads of these supervisory agencies but only after they have secured the approval of a majority of MPs,” says Al-Oleimi. “Constitutional articles 217, 218 and 219 stipulate that these agencies are independent, and requires them to submit regular reports to the president, parliament and prime minister on their progress in fighting corruption and imposing greater transparency on state institutions.”

Al-Oleimi praised parliament’s own role in exposing corruption.

“A number of parliamentary fact-finding committees were able to uncover corruption, particularly the Ministry of Supply. As a result the minister of supply and internal trade was forced to resign,” says Al-Oleimi.

According to Al-Oleimi parliament, together with the Central Auditing Agency, has spearheaded the battle against money laundering and halting the supply of funds to terrorists.

“Laws have been passed tightening control of money laundering and drying up funds going to terrorist organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic State,” says Al-Oleimi.

In a speech delivered before Al-Sisi and other senior Egyptian and Arab officials CAA chief Hisham Badawi reviewed the achievements of the country’s top watchdog. The CAA, he said, was created to fight corruption in government circles, rationalise public finances and help implement development projects in a transparent and cost effective way.

The heads of the United Arab Emirates’ and Saudi Arabia’s auditing agencies, attended the ceremony.

Badawi was appointed in August 2016 following the dismissal of his predecessor Hisham Geneina in March 2016. Al-Sisi dismissed Geneina after he was referred to trial on charges of spreading false information. Geneina had claimed in a press interview in December 2015 that government corruption between 2011 and 2015 had led to the loss of LE600 billion.

A study produced by Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in March 2017 highlights how, in 2014, “the government announced a national anti-corruption strategy for the years 2014 to 2018 based on ending nepotism and reinforcing accountability in government circles.”

The study records that in 2014 a National Anti-Corruption Committee was established — “headed by the prime minister and including the ministers of justice and local development, the head of the Administrative Prosecution Authority, the Administrative Control Organisation and representatives from the interior and foreign ministries, General Intelligence, the CAA and the Money Laundering Combating Unit” — to ensure Egypt’s commitments under international agreements on corruption were being fulfilled.

In April 2015 Al-Sisi appointed Mohamed Erfan to head the ACA. Erfan told reporters in May that the ACA was not only battling corruption in government circles but was seeking to improve the investment climate in Egypt by increasing transparency and phasing out bureaucracy.

The ACA has uncovered a number of high-profile corruption cases. In April 2016 former minister of agriculture Salah Hilal was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being found guilty of accepting bribes in return for helping businessmen purchase state-owned land at less than the market price. In August 2016 the ACA exposed corruption among judges and senior officials affiliated with the State Council.

The ACA, said Erfan, had been instructed by President Al-Sisi to launch surprise raids on government offices.

“These raids are an attempt to impose discipline and verify whether government offices are doing their jobs properly,” said Erfan. “Articles 6, 7 and 8 of the ACA Law 54/1964 allow ACA officials to seize documents and statements, regardless of their classification, and use all technical means necessary to uncover corruption.”

Erfan also revealed Al-Sisi asked the ACA to review implementation of mega-projects, including the construction of a new administrative capital.

The battle against corruption has seen a relative improvement in Egypt’s position on Transparency International’s Perceptions of Corruption Index. Egypt scored 34 points out of 100 on the 2016 index, up from a record low of 28 points in 2008.

Nile Delta governorate MP Mohamed Abdallah Zeineddin told Al-Ahram Weekly that though “the fight against corruption in Egypt has come a long way since 2014,” anti-corruption initiatives need to be better organised.

“It is not just a question of laws and supervisory agencies. Collective action is needed to improve Egypt’s position on the Corruption Index,” he says.

“A national anti-corruption commission could help supervisory agencies work in coordination with one another and orchestrate policies which clamp down on all forms of graft.”

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