Six Years On, What Has Changed?
In 2011, we held our breaths. The people spoke, and a few dictatorships fell. We hoped for change: democracy, corruption-free systems, accountable and transparent governments, full rights for citizens, free press, prosperous economies—the wish list was long.
Six years forward, what has changed?
The launch of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2016, which measures levels of perceived corruption in the public sector, coincides today with the sixth anniversary of the Egyptian revolution. It is an ironic reminder of how grave and entrenched corruption is in our countries.
Here is quick run-up of the main highlights of the results:
On a scale from zero (very corrupt) to 100 (very clean), 90% of Arab countries have scored below fifty. That’s what we call a failing grade.
Five out of the world’s ten most corrupt countries are from the region: Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. These countries are riddled with wars, political instability, and terrorism, which stresses the fact that conflicts fuel corruption, and in particular political corruption.
Six years ago, we thought we could end corruption… but the numbers tell a different story
Instead of cleaning their records, Arab governments have been too busy putting more skeletons in their closets
The Gulf States are the biggest decliners on the index, with Qatar leading the list. The FIFA corruption scandals, particularly around hosting the World Cup 2020, as well as abusing the rights of migrant workers, have cost Qatar ten points on the index. This is a sharp decline from where it was last year.
In Algeria, Egypt, and Lebanon, corruption levels are still high, all scoring below fifty.
People in the Arab world are the ones to suffer under such calamitous levels of corruption. An earlier report finds that nearly one in three people in the region have had to pay a bribe in order to access basic public services such as health and education. This is nearly 50 million people.
Arab governments have indeed failed miserably to deliver on their repeated promises and commitments to uproot corruption. Cases of grand corruption, such as those of Egypt’s former regime where a handful of people have looted millions from the public to supplement their own incomes, were hardly investigated and prosecuted. The stolen assets by former corrupt regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen are yet to be returned. Out of an estimated $17 billion worth of assets stolen by ousted Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, only a fraction was recovered.
Instead of cleaning up their records, Arab governments are busy cracking down on civil society organizations, meddling in the affairs of supposedly independent control and audit agencies, and persecuting those who speak up and attempt to hold these governments accountable.
But it’s not all doomed. Tunisia stands out as an exception to what appears to be the rule in the Arab world. Tunisia has improved its corruption level scores by three points. Thanks to a very active civil society, the country has succeeded in adopting serious anti-corruption measures; it passed a very progressive Access to Information law, passed a Financial Court law, which allows the court to investigate Grand Corruption cases, and adopted a national anti-corruption strategy. Despite the progress, there is a long way to go yet.
Anti-corruption legislations are not enough. We urgently need a systemic overhaul. We need systems where citizens are empowered to hold their governments accountable, where people and the press can speak up freely, where the corrupt can longer enjoy impunity from punishment, where politicians and the elite can no longer relish in luxury at the expense of the majority, who live in misery and poverty.
For all of this to happen, there must be one thing present: a real political will to fight corruption. As long as it remains missing, we will continue to sink—not only on this corruption index, but on every other measurement that there is.