Activists cast doubt on ability to fight corruption [Archives:2007/1110/Local News]

December 10 2007

By: Mohammed Bin Sallam
SANA'A Dec, 9 ) Different Yemeni government agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) observed International Anti-Corruption Day, occurring on December 9. The occasion, during which many prominent personalities discussed corruption, was highlighted by different government agencies, which aim to fight corruption through the recently established National Anti-Corruption Authority (NACA).

Some of the participants showed optimism that the newly established authority will succeed in diagnosing corruption in Yemen and suggest possible solutions, while others doubt that the authority will have successful results. Bilqis Abu Isbu'e, NACA Deputy Chairman , considered the media to be the authority's main partner in combating the phenomenon. She pointed out the important role of media in fighting rampant corruption by exposing its various aspects and increasing people's awareness about its harmful effects at the national level.

According to Abu Isbu'e, any report published by the press about corruption will function as a message for the authority to play a greater role in this respect, reaffirming the media's role in increasing people's awareness and enhancing integrity.

She reviewed all the efforts so far expended by NACA since its establishment, including plans for future developments, saying that the authority began to receive notifications and complaints from citizens about various corruption cases and financial liability concerns as part of the authority's duties under an agreement signed by Yemen and the International Anti-Corruption Committee. The NACA Deputy Chairman clarified that the authority works on two levels, the first of which is bringing about an institutional framework, administrative structure and qualified staff, while the second is engaged in establishing the Anti-Corruption Law.

Abu Isbu'e denounced rumors that the authority was established to improve the government's image. “Please give us at least one year as an opportunity to demonstrate our capacity in fighting corruption and suggesting possible and transparent solutions to eliminate it from various government offices,” she responded.

Concerning the use of military, security and other government vehicles after official working hours for personal purposes, Abu Isbu'e said that such a phenomenon costs the state billions of riyals, coupled with car accidents caused by sons and relatives of officials while driving government vehicles.

She confirmed that the NACA is waiting for any reports and notifications from the press and journalists about this phenomenon in order to begin discussing it. “You should learn that no issues is prohibited for discussion,” she continued.

With regard to financial liabilities, which the authority required from senior government officials, Abu Isbu'e stated, “There is a positive response from the government regarding financial liabilities, and 16 ministers have submitted financial reports to the authority. The information and data contained in the financial liability forms are kept confidential, in accordance with law. In case any official is suspected of misusing funds, he/she will be investigated.”

Abu Isbu'e pointed out that current laws prevent authorities from talking or giving press statements about any corruption cases still under review. She revealed that the authority is preparing to establish the National Coalition for Integrity, to consist of government institutions concerned with fighting corruption such as Parliament, the Central Organization for Control and Audit (COCA), judicial bodies, civil community organizations, the media and even ordinary citizens.

Prominent Member of Parliament (MP) Ali Ashal declared that he doubts that the newly established authority will succeed in fighting corruption for numerous reasons, one of which is that some of the selected members are not eligible.

“Observers of the Anti-Corruption Law understand that it is the product of a government initiative made in response to the International Agreement for Fighting Corruption that urged the Yemeni government to combat this widespread problem in its offices and agencies,” Ashal commented. “This response doesn't reflect the government's will and it established the NACA to show people that it is serious about eliminating corruption.”

“I don't think that this authority will be able to effectively perform its duty, as there are areas it cannot investigate. As an MP, I can confirm that Parliament constitutes a barrier against fighting corruption,” he said.

At the ceremony, Chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council Judge Essam Al-Samawi praised the idea of establishing a national coalition for integrity and fighting corruption, coinciding with the government's efforts to eradicate the phenomenon. He advised various NGOs and independent media to assist the NACA in fighting corruption, search for facts and avoid publishing fraudulent information.

Al-Samawi indicated that the NACA will be one of the arms of the judiciary, in addition to public prosecution, criminal investigation bureaus and other security organs.

Ahmad Mohamed Al-Anisi, Chairman of the NACA, gave a speech on the occasion, saying, “Fighting corruption is a community responsibility. The NACA is not the only responsible agency for fighting such a phenomenon. Solidarity and cooperation between various parties to eradicate the phenomenon is impossible, but the government is recommended to strengthen the power and independence of the judiciary, support Parliament, develop oversight agencies and enhance their independence, and involve different media outlets, COCA, NGOs and the international community in fighting such a destructive phenomenon.”

The NACA Chairman reviewed the several steps that have been taken so far as part of the efforts exerted for fighting corruption. These steps include Parliament's approval of the International Agreement for Fighting Corruption, issuing the Financial Liability Law, establishing the NACA and enacting the Tenders Law.

Giving a speech on the occasion, Dina Assaf, the UN Development Program Resident Representative, Flavia Panseiri ,indicated that Yemen has endorsed the UN Agreement for Fighting Corruption. “Corruption is known to be the biggest obstacle to development. Therefore, Yemen needs to expend serious efforts in fighting the phenomenon, particularly as the country is ranked 131st out of 179 countries ordered in terms of least corrupt to most corrupt,” she said. Assaf attributed rampant corruption in Yemen to numerous reasons, such as the lack of questioning and transparency, weak involvement of people in running public affairs, poor performance of the media, NGOs and COCA, and insufficient legislation to fight corruption.

Panseiri vowed that her organization will cooperate with the Yemeni government in supporting Yemen's judicial system and backing the Finance Ministry in managing budgets more transparently.

NACA members Saadaddin Taleb and Ezzaddin Al-Asbahi reviewed the requirements for establishing a national coalition for integrity and fighting corruption, plus the practical steps for the coalition's business. They specified the first quarter of 2008 as a deadline to complete the formation of this coalition, crystallize its principles, invite partners and various agencies to the inaugural ceremony of the coalition in April 2008 and then develop a strategy in cooperation with NGOs, the media and the private sector.