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Anti-corruption and integrity highlights from the Arab region in 2016

Arab Region - Monday, December 26, 2016

Efforts to prevent and combat corruption continue to witness a steady rise in the Arab states region, albeit with varying degrees of success and limited overall progress recorded in 2016. This is despite the seemingly increasing expression of political commitment to the anti-corruption agenda and the relatively growing investment in related initiatives. Indeed, other than national resources, a cursory review of donor contributions to anti-corruption and integrity programming shows incremental improvement in recent years, with UNDP, the Governments of Korea and the United States, the Siemens Integrity Initiative, the Council of Europe, the UNODC and the OECD coming on top as principal partners to the Arab states. This investment, however, is not sufficient according to Achraf Rifi, the outgoing chairperson of the Arab Anti-Corruption and Integrity Network (ACINET) and the Minister of Justice in Lebanon, who stated: “corruption, poverty and insecurity are closely related feeding off each other. They are destabilizing the region and threatening its future. The attention of Arab governments and the international community is focused on countering terrorism and aiding the poor, but very little is being done to address the root causes, including corruption, which I believe is a major challenge for us all”.

In terms of milestones, Morocco and Tunisia joined the ranks of countries with formal national anti-corruption strategies, increasing the total in the region to eight, with Jordan adopting an ambitious third strategy for 2017-2025, and each of Bahrain, Comoros, Egypt, Mauritania, Palestine and Saudi Arabia continuing the implementation of their respective strategies, featuring elaborate training programmes, growth in criminal investigations, enforcement of asset declaration laws and various awareness-raising initiatives mostly targeting the youth. On the other hand, the efforts of the Iraqi Integrity Commission to adopt a new strategy, after the expiry of the earlier one for 2010-2014 were delayed, while Lebanon continues its slow but steady progress towards the development of its first strategy, and so does Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, while Yemen’s strategy for 2010-2014 continues to be on hold since 2011. Many of those strategies are supported by various international partners, with UNDP playing a cross-cutting role and focusing its support in 2015 and 2016 on Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia, along with other players including but not limited to USAID in Jordan and UNODC in Qatar.

UNDP’s Chief Technical Advisor on Anti-Corruption and Integrity in Arab Countries, Arkan El Seblani, reflected on the various strategies currently in place and noted that “a strategy is an important milestone, but if there are no adequate resources and proper prioritization, the strategy is likely to fail”, adding, “most of the strategies in the region, and worldwide, are too broad and over-emphasize law enforcement and awareness-raising in their implementation, with much less attention afforded to prevention and coordination”. The situation is slowly changing with some countries shifting towards focusing their efforts on specific sectors instead of almost exclusively limiting themselves to generic policies and all-encompassing goals. 

Indeed, with the support of UNDP, Jordan and Morocco, and more recently Iraq and Tunisia, have embarked on concrete initiatives that tackle corruption risks and accountability gaps in specific sectors, including health, customs, construction, police and municipalities. In Egypt, the Administrative Control Authority is also leading an effort to transpose the national strategy for 2014-2018 into specific sectoral plans. Furthermore, key stakeholders in Libya have also joined this new direction, despite the highly volatile situation in the country and the delays in implementing the Libyan Political Agreement, which puts special emphasis on anti-corruption. Similar efforts are expected to be launched in Lebanon by the incoming government following the recent election of a new President for the Republic who has clearly stipulated anti-corruption as a national priority.

In parallel, the year 2016 witnessed important legislative developments including the adoption of the right of access to information law in Morocco, and the Tunisian government’s endorsement of the bill on whistle-blower protection and the bill on combatting illicit enrichment and conflict of interest, and referred them to Parliament for adoption, all while the Parliament in Lebanon continues to be unable to consider the bills that had been submitted to it in 2015 related to access to information and whistle-blower protection. Similarly, proposed legislative reforms continue to stall in a number of countries, including in Palestine in relation to access to information, asset declaration and illicit enrichment, while the Kuwaiti Authority for Anti-Corruption continue to face challenges that undermine its ability to perform effectively. Jordan, on the other hand, adopted its Integrity and Anti-Corruption Law in April, reorganizing the Commission, integrating the Ombudsman under it, while reshaping its mission and powers in a manner that was welcomed by some and criticized by others.

In Iraq, the Council of Ministers concluded a Memorandum of Understanding with UNDP in August to enhance national capacities to investigate complex high-profile corruption cases. In parallel, the Integrity Commission, which had been focusing its efforts, since mid-2015, on implementing existing laws, has made noticeable progress in enforcing the laws on asset declaration and illicit enrichment, while setting up and activating field investigation squads that successfully investigated infractions and also provided reform recommendations, leading to the recovery and saving of more than 2.5 trillion Iraqi Dinars, according to the Commission. In Egypt as well, there has been important, albeit sporadic, successes in corruption investigations, including a series of high-profile cases in the Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation, in addition to various initiatives by the Administrative Control Authority, including the establishment of a unit to address anti-corruption complaints by investors and business entities.

Moreover, the direction to develop national corruption/integrity indices is being deepened, following Morocco’s initiative in 2014 to set up its own index with the technical support of UNDP. In 2016, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have made progress towards this objective and are aiming to test this index next year.

Various other complementary initiatives that are in place have also picked up pace in 2016, while asset recovery efforts seem to have subsided compared to earlier years. Among the initiatives that showed progress in 2016 is the Arab Anti-Corruption and Integrity Network (ACINET), which convened its fifth Ministerial Conference in Tunis in September, and produced a new regional framework for joint action against corruption, renewing political commitment to this agenda, while refocusing it on accountability and linkages to sustainable development. Another important initiative is the Open Government Partnership (OGP), which held its Summit in Paris in December, and which was joined by Jordan in 2011 and Tunisia in 2013, the only two countries from the region, with Morocco starting to move in that direction in 2016. The UN Global Compact (UNGC) has also expanded its presence in the region, while Transparency International (TI), the leading international non-governmental organization, and the Global Organization for Parliamentarians against Corruption (GOPAC) continue their efforts to enhance the engagement of their constituents in ongoing efforts, with notable activity observed in Tunisia, Libya, Morocco and Palestine, while independent civil society organizations continue to face various challenges that prevent their effective engagement, notwithstanding some exceptions including in Jordan, Kuwait and more recently in Sudan.

The prospects for 2017 seem more promising, with several countries poised to accelerate and deepen their efforts, including in specific sectors and at the legislative level, all in the framework of their respective national strategies and the global effort to review the implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC).


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