Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1173, (21 - 27 November 2013)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1173, (21 - 27 November 2013)

Ahram Weekly

How much the gift?

A new law that will help fight government corruption has just been passed

When the interim President Adli Mansour chose Hazem Al-Beblawi to lead the caretaker government, many international agencies including the World Bank welcomed the decision, hoping Al-Beblawi would introduce new reforms to Egyptian bureaucracy based on adopting mechanisms to fight corruption, Mohamed Abdel-Baky reports.

Al-Beblawi is close to realising these expectations by issuing a new law banning activities that constitute a conflict of interest when government officials are concerned.

The new law, approved by Mansour last week, tackles one of the legal loopholes that allowed officials to misuse their posts for personal benefits.

The new law establishes integrated and detailed regulations of what officials may and may not do in terms of activities or possession of assets. Public officials include senior state posts such as the president, his deputies, the cabinet, local governors and the heads of public agencies and regulatory bodies.

“The law protects society from illegal interaction between power and money, putting clear limits for those in public office positions,” said Ehab Badawi, the presidential spokesman. Legal measures and sanctions for violators were also included.

The law makes it necessary for government officials who take up other jobs to either quit their government positions, or quit their other job to prevent conflict of interest. According to the law, a new commission for the prevention of corruption will also be established.

Under the law, government officials have to submit a financial statement to the new commission one month after entering their public posts. This statement must be updated every year.

It stipulates that government officials do not have the right to buy stocks in companies or commercial projects or even increase their already present stocks either directly or indirectly.

Government officials also do not have the right to receive gifts more than LE300 ($43.6) in value.

A number of high profile public officials in office prior to the 2011 revolution became associated with profiteering and corruption. At least four former ministers have been tried on corruption-related charges.

Political parties welcomed the law but called on the government not to make any exceptions among government officials.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of International Cooperation Ziad Bahaaeddin said that the new law is part of the government’s efforts to introduce new legislative packages that will be proposed in the near future that aim to help the government and society to combat corruption.

Bahaaeddin added that a number of new pieces of legislation aimed at fighting corruption were being considered, including laws aimed at preventing conflict of interest, witness protection and freedom of information. The National Coordination Committee stated that it was working through its sub-committees in reviewing new national strategies to combat corruption.

Egypt has recently been downgraded in the world ranking of countries committed to combating corruption.

According to Transparency International and the annual Corruption Perceptions Index, Egypt has fallen six places to 118th out of 176 countries as levels of bribery, abuse of power and secret dealings remain high in the Arab world’s most populous nation.

Since 2009, successive governments have countered corruption by passing several laws to better contain it, for it directly affects foreign direct investment. Nevertheless, the enforcement of these laws still remains weak.

Egypt ratified the UN Convention against Corruption in 2005 but is not party to either the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Anti-Bribery Convention or the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption.

Currently, there is no specific anti-corruption law, but active and passive bribery, attempted corruption, abuse of office and using public resources for private gain are criminalised by the penal code. Extortion is not considered a crime or an offence that entails a penalty.

The Anti-Money Laundering Law 2002 and subsequent amendments criminalise money laundering. The law only refers to public sector and private-public sector corruption, whereas business-to-business corruption is not covered. Since foreign officials are not included in the law on the list of individuals of whom it is a crime to bribe, a 2012 report published by Global Partners and Associates thus concludes that it is not considered illegal to bribe foreign public officials in Egypt.

In 2008, the Unified Construction Law 119 was passed, aimed at reducing corruption in the construction sector by cutting down the number of regulations and entities involved in the construction process. The current constitutional assembly is discussing new articles to be included in the new constitution that provide for better transparency within the government as it stipulates the public’s right to information and imposes annual financial disclosure on members of parliament.

This article supports the recently approved Freedom of Exchange of Information draft law which was passed in May. The law gives citizens the right to demand information from state institutions at little or no cost.

The law also obliges government institutions to fully document and index their work in a way that makes it easier to access information.

Some experts believe that approving such a law would not combat corruption if there is no clear political will.

“Impunity among government officials has been less widespread over the last two years due to the prosecution of several high-profile officials. Since the overthrow of the Mubarak regime, these kind of policies reduce corruption, not the laws,” said Mustafa Al-Said, former minister of economy.

He added that the law did not add anything new since the penal code criminalises most corruption crimes.

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