2014 Activities

Regional Report on Political Corruption in the Arab World

Regional Report on Political Corruption in the Arab World

• For real change to occur, it is necessary to rewrite the social contracts (constitutions) in all Arab countries
• Magnitude of interventions of the Military Institution in the political sphere determines the level of democracy of the system
• Domination of the executive authority over other authorities allowed the few to capture the state and its resources
A regional report on political corruption was launched on June 25, 2014, in Beirut by a group of anti-corruption organizations and activists in the region. The report comes at a very critical stage and in light of the current political and social upheavals in many of Arab countries where demand re-writing constitutions or formulating new ones are the talk of the hour. It is time to change the old social contracts that existed since the end of World War II upon the emergence of the Arab Nation State.
Recently many Arab countries were pressured to either revise or formulate their constitutions taking into consideration citizens’ participation in the management of public affairs and strengthening their democratic systems. This required providing analytical research studies that can provide realistic diagnosis of the phenomenon, forms, and underlying causes of political corruption to help develop strategies and plans for intervention and activation of existing measures and procedures for combating and preventing political corruption, after which national integrity systems can be built.   
As mentioned above report examined the manifestations of political corruption and its causes by examining relevant indicators to practices of existing political systems in six Arab countries as they relate to the following: principle of separation of powers; the executive authority (transparency at work and integrity of employees); independence and effectiveness of the judiciary; capacity and effectiveness of the legislative authority; integrity of elections; management of public affairs and assets; the military and security institutions; official monitoring institutions; political parties; non-governmental organizations-NGOs; and the media.
The report relied on information and data collection from six Arab countries: Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen, Tunisia, Morocco, and Palestine.
For the purpose of conducting the report, political corruption was defined as follows: it is a form of corruption that is multi-faceted and is related to politicians and heads of states, political leaders, members of government and those associated with them (ruling elites) regardless of their political affiliation and or positions.  This form of corruption is usually practiced through exploitation of position of influence to sway decisions, policies, and legislations for personal interest. It is also a method by which to profit from one’s position of power by obtaining illegal funds for election campaigns, or to secretly smuggle public funds into bank accounts, or to use illegally obtained public funds to invest abroad, or obtain bribes in exchange for awarding contracts or permits, grant privileges, and or approve trade agreements.
The report showed that in many Arab countries an elite few from the ruling class has succeeded to control decisions of state institutions through partners and loyal agents and proxies found in: the executive,  legislative, and judicial authorities.  They are also found in monitoring institutions, the military and security apparatuses, public institutions, the media, and top business men from the private sector.  These individuals formed a closed circle that succeeded in the capture of the state which hindered reform and anti-corruption efforts through conventional means.
Although most Arab countries have signed the United Nations Convention against Corruption and adopted anti-corruption strategies and plans, results of the Corruption Perception Index (CPI), conducted by Transparency International, consistently indicate lack of progress in the fight against corruption in these countries.
One main result of the report showed that the dominant group was able to take a range of measures and over many years that led to the tightening of control over the various aspects of the political process and produced an “Arab system” that lacks the Will to fight corruption epitomized as follows:
• Dominance of the head of the executive authority (King, president, prime minister) over the legislative and judicial authorities.
• The life-long re-election of the head of the executive authority has transformed him into a symbol of security for the people hence displaying loyalty to him and to those around him from the ruling class became a way of life.
• In many cases, neither the head of the executive authority nor institutions that are under his jurisdiction are subject to official monitoring nor are they held accountable to the parliament for their decisions and actions.
• Personal loyalty, political cronyism, tribalism, sectarianism, was the main criteria in appointments of high positions.
• Control of the head of the executive authority in appointing senior positions reinforced traditional ways of selecting individuals for these positions, which is based on loyalty to the ruling officials and their intermediaries. It also reinforced exchange of mutual interests at the expense of public interest.
• Absence of a transparent system for disclosure of property and assets of senior officials. Instead few disclosures are submitted confidentially. This method has proven to be ineffective.
• The abovementioned flaw in the system granted some officials the opportunity to hide their illegal earnings. It also made it difficult to uncover cases benefiting from overlapping of jurisdictions and duties within positions.
• Absence of approved measures to prevent conflict of interest in public institutions in most of these countries. It therefore became common not to recognize boundaries or services between a governmental public position and interest and that of a private sector company. This also expanded possibilities for exchange of mutual benefits and profiteering hence legalizing the phenomenon of “scratch my back I’ll scratch yours”. Moreover, it facilitated exchange of positions between the influential and the loyalists whether they are in decision making positions or in lock-in profit positions.
• Entrenching the mentality of administrative bureaucracy and withholding information from citizens; a type of mentality that does not believe in the right of the citizen to information. On the contrary, it believes that this information is confidential and exclusive to the state and its officials; executed under the pretence of state security and public interest and maintaining of public order.
Domination of the ruling class over legislative authorities:
• Under the pretext of maintaining “order”, laws relating to public rights and freedoms have been used by the ruling authorities to restrict these rights and freedoms rather than grant them. Instead, it continued to refer to obsolete laws as means, which in return resulted in lack of respect for the law and its sovereignty.
• The ruling class used its influence to prevent enactment of legislations that allow the establishment of civil society organizations and the right to assembly. And when approval was granted it was often conditional upon passing security clearance.
• The ruling party dominated parliaments. Historically speaking most ruling parties enjoyed a comfortable majority in most of these countries and for long periods of time. This weakened the monitoring role of parliaments, hence providing immunity to the executive authorities against any interrogations or accusations.
• Representation of the opposition in most of these parliaments is nominal, hence its impact is limited in the decision making process and in assuming leadership positions within these parliaments.
The Judiciary Authorities
• Interference of the executive authority in the affairs of the judiciary constitutes the following: appointments, dismissals, seconding, transferring, promoting, and disciplining of judges. It also includes: control of the judiciary budgets, establishments of special courts to try civilians, lack of respect for court orders, coercing judges to change their decisions regarding some cases brought before them as in to close files, or to decide in favor of a particular party.
• The attorney General works as a lawyer for the regime and not as a protector of rights of citizens. This is due to his subservience to the executive authority in most cases.
• The electoral process was disrupted, or results were rigged using violence and or bribery. The use of public funds and property by the ruling party, and the unjustified interference from the security apparatuses also played a role in disrupting the process. In some cases, the rules and regulations governing the electoral process were designed to allow the ruling class to control elections results.
• On several occasions the supervisory party for elections, neither independent nor impartial, was uncovered and confirmed as being appointed by the ruling party hence was subservient to pressure imposed on it.
• There are a lot of gaps and shortcomings of the role of parliaments in many cases in respect to approval of budgets where the process appeared to be a formality.
• The report indicated that in many countries there was a large sum of revenues and investments that were not part of the state’s budget. In addition, some institutions, like the security institution, its budget was listed as a lump-sum with no details, hence, in this case, not subject to the parliament’s scrutiny. 
• Failure to submit final closing accounts for the financial year, which represents the actual spending to parliaments, in many cases.
• In any instances, concession processes for resources, management of public utilities, and allocations of state land were conducted in clear violation of the law. This provided opportunities for looting and wasting of public funds. It also gave officials a mechanism by which to make illegal gains.
Accountability and control bodies:
• Public oversight bodies and their officials are under the jurisdiction of the head of the executive authority in many of these countries, which is contrary to sound regulatory principles.  Being subservient to the head influences the independence of these institutions. Furthermore, their reports were often confidential and are not published to the public.
• The security apparatus became the tool by which the ruling class imposed its control over citizens. It also protected the ruling class and helped to oppress its opponents.
•  Many of the regimes resorted to forming special security services for its own protection such as: homeland security, preventive security and special guards…at the expense of the civil police. Security apparatuses in most countries played an important role in the economic and civic life and in the electoral process.
• Security institutions and their leaders were not subject, in most of these Arab countries, to the control and accountability of parliaments. Moreover, their budgets were featured in the public budget as a lump-sum (total number) with no details.
The Media
• The ruling party controlled the official media and recruited it to its service. It ignored stances of political oppositions and used media to attack them. 
• The legal framework for media shackles the rights and freedoms of the media. It also delineated redlines that are forbidden to be crossed, even if subjected to persecution, trial, and imprisonment, especially in dealing with corruption issues.
Based on the above mentioned gaps, in many of the Arab countries, especially those that have gone through transformation, it is vital to revise the social contracts with the aim of instilling as many of the basic principles as possible in their constitutions. This revision is important in order to better guarantee that the old systems will not be repeated.
To achieve this objective, the report recommends the following:
• The constitutions need to include a balanced breakdown of power between authorities. They should also ensure that provisions of constitutions are free of ambiguity that might allow predominance of the executive authority over other authorities.
•  The constitutions should explicitly state that all authorities are subject to monitoring and control including all officials.
• It is highly recommended to establish parliamentary systems. Also presidential systems should adopt the principle of restricting nomination for office to a one four-year term.
• Adopt legislations especially formulated for appointments of senior positions that specify requirement and criteria for assuming these positions. They should also ensure that appointments are made based on competence and experience and not on partisan or sectarian bases.
• Safe keeping of financial disclosures submitted by related parties is insufficient.  The files should undergo regular and comprehensive check to verify information concerning amounts of funds and assets disclosed.  This is to prevent any misuse of the money and hence escaping punishment.  Moreover, constitutions should include adopting the principle of asset disclosure for senior officials without keeping it confidential. 
• Adopt special legislations that prevent conflict of interest to all that assume positions relating to public affairs, especially those in senior positions. Moreover, it is equally important to adopt clear procedures to put these legislations into practice in public institutions by clearly illustrating the separation of functions between the public and private sectors.
• Constitutions should include provisions that guarantee citizens’ right to access to information regarding public affairs. Also to issue “Freedom of Access to information” laws and the citizens’ right to obtain such information in accordance with international laws.
• Promote a culture of openness among public sector employees and raise their awareness of the public’s right to access and obtain information.
• Constitutions should explicitly contain provisions on public rights and liberties, as contained in international conventions ratified by the Arab countries, and to guarantee protection of those rights. Moreover, special legislations should be issued to ensure implementation of these rights without restrictions or manipulations that empty them from their content.
• To insure that no immunity shall be granted to any executive body that impinges on public rights and liberties.
• All executive agencies have to be subject to the control and accountability of parliaments, especially security agencies, the presidency institution and executive branches and institutions under its jurisdiction.
• Removal of all provisions in constitutions and other legislations that allow interference with the independence of judiciaries, especially procedures that relate to appointment, dismissal, and immunity of judges.
• Refusal to implement provisions of the judiciary is an offense punishable by law and a reason for dismissing a public employee from his/her job.
• Improve and strengthen accountability mechanisms for anyone who assumes responsibility of management of public affairs.
• Constitutions should explicitly state that: the attorney general and the prosecution apparatus are part of the judicial system, and to end his subordination to the executive power; interference in judicial affairs by the executive authority needs to stop; grant the attorney general the immunity needed to enable him to perform his duties as an advocate for the public interest and not for the ruling class.
• Adopt electoral systems that allow for representation of all segments of society and its components.  A system of proportional representation has been the most effective in achieving this goal due to its role in promoting political pluralism.
• Prohibit the interference of security personnel in the electoral process except to provide protection to the polling stations. Also allow civil society and international organizations to monitor the electoral process.
• Ensure equal opportunities for all candidates and political parties in terms of public financing of election campaigns and utilization of official media.
• Establish permanent supreme bodies to oversee elections that are autonomous and immune against outside pressures that negatively affect the integrity and transparency of the electoral process.
• Inclusion of all revenues and expenditures in the state’s general budget to be subject  to the scrutiny of parliaments through budgets and final accounts.
• Review and revise legislations relating to granting privileges in services; best use of public resources; state land, and public procurement, with the aim of closing gaps that allow for misuse and looting of public funds.
• Prohibit the establishment of security services outside the scope of the official security establishment. To also ensure that the official establishment is built on professional bases as a state institution and not as one that is exclusive to the protection of the ruling party. Finally, its leaders have to answer to a higher political level and its budgets to be subject to parliaments.
• Prevent interference of the security forces in civil life. And to deny immunity to its leaders especially when their actions and behaviors infringe upon public rights and liberties.
• Strengthen the independence and effectiveness of official public monitoring institutions; liberate these institutions from subordination to the executive power; fortify them against pressures that coerce them to selectively choose corruption cases or with the motive to settle political accounts.  
• Establish anti-corruption commissions and ensure their independence, abilities and capabilities to function effectively by providing them with tools and cadre to enable them to do the tasks required. Also build a mechanism to combat corruption by adopting a national anti-corruption plan with participation from all parties, official and civil. It is worth noting that anti-corruption commissions are considered important elements in the fight against corruption, and establishing them comes as compliance with the (UNCAC).
• Remove restrictions that affect establishment of political parties; stop the policy of exclusion intended to keep some political forces from officially establishing political parties.   
• Avoid restrictions that constrict the establishment of charitable organizations and non-governmental organizations and making registration rather than obtaining a license the condition for establishing an organization.
• Prevent the use of official media, which is considered a national media, for propaganda campaigns and for political and factional uses. Stop limiting freedom of journalists when dealing with corruption issues through terrorizing and detaining them under the pretext of defamation and slander.