The war against corruption [Archives:2006/1009/Business & Economy]

December 21 2006

By: Raidan Al-Saqqaf and
Mahub Al-Kamali

The recent election campaigns witnessed an unprecedented level of freedoms to discuss various issues related to the Yemeni society, on top of which was the issue of corruption. Citizens and voters discussed the origins of corruption and the reasons behind its presence in the country, from top officials to businessmen to government employees. However, the fact that debates on the topic were aired through national television along with the speeches of presidential candidates have been eye openers for the society.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh has said time and again that his war against corruption is intensifying, indicating that there is no place for the corrupt in his government and illustrating several measures to combat corruption and the corrupt, but the question raises itself, who is the corrupt and who is the corrupter? And what is being done to isolate and eradicate the corrupt figures from all levels of government.

Corruption can be defined as the practice of unlawful or improper use of influence, power, and other means, but it occurs mostly by the misuse of authority and public funds for personal gains, corruption ranges from accepting a bribe to facilitate some transaction or ignore a violation all the way to transferring public funds and assets into personal property, and this sort of corruption has been witnessed on several accounts in Yemen, a recent report by the Central Organization for Control and Audit has listed 86 such violations during 2005 amounting to over YR3 billion, however, none of the concerned officials have been questioned or prosecuted and many of them kept their jobs.

The World Bank has been monitoring the spread of corruption in Yemen and it has threatened to cut back on its development aid unless the regime takes serious measures in combating this practice within government circles. In its assessment, the World Bank has laid down four measures to combat corruption; internal monitoring, internal and external audit of government accounts, accounting and reporting, and capacity building for auditors and the financial administration of the government. Those steps should increase transparency and ensure that cases of corruption are detected promptly.

Those reforms are currently being partly implemented by the government, the financial system followed is being revised and upgraded by the minister of finance, however, internal monitoring is still lacking and the current system of revising the accounts is highly inefficient and feeble.

Having said that, it has become clear that opposition parties used such facts supported by government reports to be used in pointing fingers during the elections campaign, the opposition has focused on presenting the flaws of the regime in its attempts to combat corruption as a political tool through presenting its own set of measures to combat corruption as an integral part of its elections campaign.

So far, the regime has failed miserably in combating corruption, the 2006 corruption perception index has ranked Yemen at 2.6 points which is worse than previous years in spite of the highly publicized government efforts to combat corruption, a clear indication that something is wrong.

The third strategic five-year plan has made combating corruption as one of its pillars, aiming at improving Yemen's ranking in the corruption index to 4 points by 2010. To do that the government will establish an independent agency to detect cases of corruption and make sure that the involved officials are tried and sentenced, as well as the approval of a law requiring all high-level government officials to declare their net worth on timely bases, in order to increase public confidence in the government, as well as other measures to improve governance and enhance transparency in handling public funds.

Various government agencies started formulating different mechanism to combat corruption, ranging from using sophisticated systems and mechanism to ensure the integrity of bidding and tender processes such that adopted in the Ministry of Oil, or the system of fingerprint used in the ministry of civil service in order to detect cases of fraud where the same employees are double-listed and in turn receive multiple pay checks.

However, there is almost no coordination between various ministries and government agencies in their tactics against corruption, while the newly established government agency with the aim of combating corruption would need a few years to advance its learning curve and have a significant effect in combating corruption, especially as there is no strong deterrent to discourage officials from involving themselves in corruption as they still continue going unpunished under the eyes of the legal system.

Yemen's war against corruption is an arbitrary war fought using random tactics and almost little coordination; therefore it is very likely that the lifecycle of this war would go beyond the current 7-year term of president Saleh with very little success in reducing corruption, mind you eradicating it.