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Towards a new generation of national anti-corruption strategies in the Arab region

Arab Region - Friday, September 18, 2015

The advent of the “national anti-corruption strategy” to Arab countries, less than a decade ago, marked a new era for the governance discourse in the region, where governments formally acknowledge the corruption problem and openly establish commitments, although mostly general in nature, to address this problem in various ways including awareness, prevention and enforcement.

The first strategy on record in the region seems to be the one announced by Saudi Arabia in 2007; however, the significant delay in starting its implementation and the abridged nature of the document itself causes researchers to consider Jordan as the first Arab country to have had a complete strategy in place, back in 2008. Since then, many Arab countries followed suit, starting with Iraq and Yemen in 2010, then Comoros, Mauritania and Palestine in 2012, and most recently Egypt in 2014.

While Jordan moved into the second phase of its strategy in 2013, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia embarked on their own processes to develop the first version of their respective strategies. Almost three years later, Morocco is the only country that seems to have made significant progress in this regard, while the process in Lebanon seems to be on hold under the current Government, and that in Tunisia continuing to stagnate despite significant efforts and related investments.

A recent mapping by UNDP reveals that despite the progress made in the adoption of national anti-corruption strategies in the Arab region, limited progress has been made on their implementation, with very little information publically available on related achievements and lessons learned. This situation is attributed to a number of political and technical challenges, including deficiencies in the planning process and the resources provided for implementation. Common among all the strategies in the region, however, is the lack of proper monitoring and evaluation systems. The Arab Anti-Corruption and Integrity Network (ACINET) has highlighted this challenge on various occasions and is promoting the adoption of such systems. Jordan responded with introducing minor enhancements to its strategy’s monitoring and evaluation system, while Morocco is currently working with UNDP to establish a more robust system for its new strategy, which is expected to be announced before the end of this year. Iraq is also expected to introduce a more effective system for monitoring and evaluating the second phase of its strategy, which is expected to be completed in 2016.

Despite their aspiration to be “national”, those strategies are generally centralized around the national anti-corruption agency, with limited inclusion of other stakeholders in actual decision-making and execution. Furthermore, they tend to be focused on broad and generic issues with little attention to key vulnerable sectors. Following the recommendations of the High-Level Consultation on Paths for Cooperation on Anti-Corruption and Integrity in Arab Countries (Skherat, 19-20 November 2014), UNDP has been building national capacities to expand participation in national anti-corruption strategies in Arab countries, and has focused in recent months on providing advisory support to key stakeholders to help them to identify key vulnerable sectors and integrate related elements in the action plans of their respective strategies. These efforts seem to be yielding positive results with commitments made in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia to include a number of sectors in their future plans including but not limited to health, education, customs and tax. Related actions would include regulatory reforms to reduce red tape and enhance controls, and trainings to raise awareness and build specialized capacities against corruption.

This new direction – participatory approach and sectoral initiatives – seems to pave the way towards a new generation of “national anti-corruption strategies” that may be better positioned to achieve concrete results and report on those achievements and lessons learned. Such a positive development is much needed in a continuously volatile environment that undermines the developmental gains across the region and exacerbates the security threats it is facing at various levels. Whether this direction will materialize or not depends on the level of political commitment and the amount of resources availed to the national institutions responsible for coordinating the development and implementation of those strategies. UNDP is planning to collaborate with ACINET to publish a study that helps to track progress in this regard, while continuing to provide related technical assistance in the framework of its regional project on “Anti-Corruption and Integrity in Arab Countries” and other country-specific projects.


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