Several factors gave rise to the Arab Spring that took over the psyche of masses of Arabs and led to the downfall of firmly entrenched leaders, some who had been occupying their seats of power for more than three decades. One factor that was often ignored, overlooked and dwarfed by calls for political freedom, human rights, and an end to state-sponsored repression was the vice of corruption.
To the Arab on the street, it was the corruption he witnessed around him that made him lose faith in the governing body. It ate at his conscience and his ethics, and eventually bit into his pocket. And when that happened, the individual had very little to lose.
The governed in these countries just had to look at their leaders and their lifestyles and then compare them to their own bleak and impoverished existence before coming to a realisation that something had to be done, and thus they took to the streets. The prevalent moral decay fuelled enough anger and revolt regionally that long established governments and power structures once considered solid have crumbled. But corruption is not confined to the region alone.
The annual study released by Transparency International (TI), the Corruption Perceptions Index 2012 displays how corruption continues to devastate societies around the world. The 2012 report offers a breakdown of individual countries’ scores and how corrupt their public sectors have been ranked. Two-thirds of the 176 countries ranked in the 2012 index score below the median, indicating a major problem with corruption.
Following the release of the study, Cobus de Swardt of Transparency International said, ‘Corruption is the world’s most talked about problem. The world’s leading economies should lead by example, making sure that their institutions are fully transparent and their leaders are held accountable. This is crucial since their institutions play a significant role in preventing corruption from flourishing globally.”
“Governments need to integrate anti-corruption actions into all public decision-making. Priorities include better rules on lobbying and political financing, making public spending and contracting more transparent and making public bodies more accountable to people,” added Huguette Labelle, the chair of TI.
“The Corruption Perceptions Index 2012 results demonstrate that societies continue to pay the high cost of corruption. Many of the countries where citizens challenged their leaders to stop corruption –from the Middle East to Asia to Europe – have seen their positions in the index stagnate or worsen,” Labelle concluded.
In the 2012 Corruptions Index results, Denmark, Finland and New Zealand tied for first place as the cleanest run governments with scores of 90. The mechanisms guarding transparency in place in these countries allowed the public unrestricted access to information systems and rules governing the behaviour of those in public positions.
At the bottom of the list were understandably the countries of Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia. As TI says, “In these countries the lack of accountable leadership and effective public institutions underscore the need to take a much stronger stance against corruption.”
Among the GCC countries, only Qatar and the UAE coasted above the median line, while the rest fell beneath. This is not very encouraging for the rest of the region. Governments in some of the countries have however begun to sit up and take notice, and action legislation designed to fight this growing evil.
In Saudi Arabia, the state-appointed anti-corruption commission mandated under the directives of King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz was formed and given full autonomy to investigate corruption across all government agencies. As it stands now, it has its hands full, weaving through a myriad of corrupt bureaucrats in several agencies, with suspicious dealings, failed projects or unaccounted public funds.
It has unearthed verified cases of unethical administration of public funds and sent their reports to the respective ministries. But many complain that it is not enough. They argue that simply generating reports proving corruption without a follow up of censure, punishment and jail time is not going to arrest the tide of corruption. For one, they demand that corrupt officials must be publicly identified and shamed. The commission must also be allowed more teeth and more bite. The judicial authorities should work hand in hand with the commission to administer swift justice.
TI rightly claims that “corruption translates into human suffering, with poor families being extorted for bribes to see doctors or to get access to clean drinking water. It leads to failure in the delivery of basic services like education or health-care. It derails the building of essential infrastructure, as corrupt leaders skim funds. Corruption destroys lives and communities, and undermines countries and institutions. It generates popular anger that threatens to further destabilise societies and exacerbate violent conflicts.”
All public servants must be held accountable for their misdeeds. Some citizens have even suggested a declaration of assets of public service personnel before they are appointed to their posts. Governments too should increase transparency in public spending and the awarding of contracts to allow less room for deceit and embezzlement of public funds.
Corruption is a cancer that slowly eats away the moral fibre of a country, and eventually leads to unrest and turmoil. It must be arrested if not stopped altogether. Those guilty of promoting this vice must not be allowed to get away scot-free.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@talmaeena