Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1125, 6 - 12 December 2012
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1125, 6 - 12 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Ingrained corruption

Egypt marks International Anti-Corruption Day next week with not much improvement on past woeful performances, reports Niveen Wahish

Al-Ahram Weekly

International Anti-Corruption Day is marked on 9 December, yet Egypt does not have much to show for itself this year. Soon after the 25 January Revolution, everybody thought things would change: no more bribes to facilitate one’s business or get oneself off the hook from a traffic ticket. In fact, it was shameful to even think of giving money under the table. Those at the receiving end refrained from the practice. But today, almost two years later, things are back to normal, if not worse.
The Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perception Index (CPI) released yesterday ranked Egypt 118 among 176 countries with a score of 32. Scores range from zero to 100 with zero perceived to be highly corrupt and 100 the least corrupt. According to a TI press release, “a growing outcry over corrupt governments forced several leaders from office last year (2011), but as the dust has cleared it has become apparent that the levels of bribery, abuse of power and secret dealings are still very high in many countries.”
Due to a methodology change, this year’s index is not comparable to last year’s. The CPI scores and ranks countries/territories based on how corrupt its public sector is perceived to be.
Randa Al-Zoghbi, director of the Centre for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) programme in Egypt acknowledged that after the revolution, “the Egyptian population’s self esteem was very high. They would neither bribe nor be bribed. They felt that they own the country.” But as time passed and there was no fundamental change, things returned to normal.
Economist Doha Abdelhamid agrees. She says “in an ideal world, revolutions tend to oust corruption, but on the ground the same modus operandi continued. The mere replacement of faces does not strike the balance. Selection of individuals based on their competency rather than religious or political affiliations should be the order of the day.”
Abdelhamid believes Egypt is perceived to be where it is today because there is no strategy for combating corruption, neither before nor after the revolution. “When there are no serious measures, such as laws, as well as regular monitoring and evaluation reports, the deplorable situation will continue as is.” Moreover, she stressed the importance of assigning competent officials to head administrative bodies and who are aware of what it takes to enforce anti-corruption laws, procedures and strategy, and be accountable for it.
She lamented that so far there has not been any clear message of political commitment in this direction. “This is part of administrative reform that has been frozen for years.”
TI’s Regional Outreach Manager Middle East North Africa Department Arwa Hassan attributed Egypt’s low score to the fact that the change in government brings with it considerable instability. She told Al-Ahram Weekly that “President Morsi is still struggling with a previous generation of decision-makers; there is lack of clarity; within ministries and government offices, many have been replaced or reshuffled. There are many instances where a vacuum has been created, and this creates space for more corruption, where there is less monitoring, or perhaps because cadres are new.” At times like these, she added, there may be insufficient focus on governance issues, although these are critical.
Ghada Moussa, international relations coordinator at the Ministry of State for Administrative Development, has her reservations on the CPI, it being a perception-based index that does not analyse the situation or help resolve it. She prefers the World Integrity Index and the Bertelsman Index, which are more accurate and measure integrity, transparency, participation, inclusion, the rule of law and accountability. They also describe the institutional framework needed to combat corruption in terms of independent bodies and regulations. Nonetheless, Moussa understands why perception of corruption is what it is. She said that the people feel that a lot of the anti-corruption decisions after the revolution came too late and that the political will to combat corruption must be followed by action, which did not happen.
Moussa also added that available laws also have problems; either they are not adhered to or are conflicting and need amending.
For example, she pointed out that the Penal Code, with its amendments, does not include protection for the person who reported or witnessed a case of corruption.
“What has been done so far is to change the heads of regulatory bodies and curtail some of the authority of the judicial police and simplify the procedures for submitting complaints of corruption and reporting on facts through presidential ombudsman or by regulatory bodies,” Moussa said.
The situation may have been better prior to the revolution. According to Al-Zoghbi, before the revolution the government had begun to work on combating corruption in certain areas, such as freedom of information, decentralisation and governance. Some draft laws were also prepared in areas such as public procurement and public sector jobs. But since the revolution, that work stopped, she said. “These draft laws should be dug out, reviewed, updated and passed through the legislative process.”
Moussa says they are in the pipeline. She said that the Ministry of Communications has a draft Freedom of Information Law. And there is another draft law regulating the conduct of public employees from the Ministry of State for Administrative Development and the National Institute of Administration.
Part of the shortcoming since the revolution, according to Ashraf Abdel-Wahab, former minister of state for administrative development, is that the management of the transitional period was not focussed on implementing policies and measures for combating corruption and transitional justice. “It was mostly focussing on managing budgets, democratic transformation and security.”
He personally believes that corruption levels may have increased given the current state of unemployment and food price rises. “Implementing a successful economic policy is key to fighting corruption in the short and medium terms, as it reduces unemployment.”
He stressed that the revolution by itself is a sign of combating corruption, but it will take some time to implement on the ground.
Abdel-Wahab added that existing laws and practices allow for corruption and must be changed, and that in particular, “the current culture of civil servants should be completely changed. It should be about serving people and not pressuring them for money.” He underlined that regulatory change should be accompanied by a new culture of “zero tolerance for corruption”. The role of civil society should increase in monitoring and reporting corruption or maltreatment cases in government. “It is about implementing the concepts of open government and being more transparent, accountable and participatory,” he said.
The 2012 CPI showed two thirds of the 176 countries ranked in the 2012 index scoring below 50, “showing that public institutions need to be more transparent and powerful officials more accountable.” In the Arab world, a number of countries dropped significantly this year, such as Syria, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia. “There is indeed a perception of a degree of instability in all of them,” said Hassan.

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