The Republic of Benin is one of West Africa’s most stable countries. Sandwiched between Nigeria and Togo to the east and west, with Niger and Burkino Faso to the north, Benin has a population of about 10 million, 40 per cent of which lives below the poverty line. It gained independence from France in 1960 but despite a peaceful transition, the country has not been able to build strong institutions and in the past decade corruption levels have increased.
Transparency International took on the challenge of finding out why. In September, after working in partnership with a local consortium made up of two civil society organisations, Social Watch Benin (Transparency International’s national contact) and ALCRER, it published the results.
The research looked at both the public and private sectors of the country and gave a series of recommendations to curb corruption and bolster growth. The judiciary was found to be the weakest institution, which in turn explained the rise in corruption: if justice can be bought then corruption will flourish.
The work was funded by the European Union (EU) within the framework of the EU-Benin cooperation, which has support for good governance as one of its main thrusts. The study started just as the people of Benin had voted for change in an election that rejected the incumbent political party in favour of Patrice Talon, an independent candidate, who won against Lionel Zinsou, the presidential candidate of the then ruling party, Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin (FCBE).
The report’s key recommendations were officially presented and handed to the Beninese government represented by the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research in an event held in Cotonou.
While Benin has enjoyed political stability since its successful transition to democracy in 1991, the country’s performance in terms of socio-economic development is not as bright. The country was ranked 166 out of 188 in the 2015 Human Development Index (HDI) with over 63 per cent of the population living in extreme poverty.
Corruption, the flow of money from trafficking of various forms, and impunity pose a serious threat to Benin’s development and keep away potential private investors. In 2016, the country was ranked 158 of out of 189 in the 2016 Doing Business report – a minor improvement from the country’s performance in 2015. However, the progress remains largely unsatisfactory.
Since 2006, a number of legal and institutional reforms have been conducted in Benin under the administration of then President Thomas Boni Yayi. An anti-corruption law was passed in 2011 and several anti-corruption agencies were established. These include the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (ARMP), the National Anti-Corruption Authority (ANLC), the National Bureau for Financial Information Processing (CENTIF) and the Office of the Ombudsman. However, these reforms have not yielded expected results.
The report notes that the rise in corruption can be attributed to the lack of a clear vision and a coherent strategy by government, the widening gap between the legal framework and the actual institutional practice, lack of capacity, and political interference in the judiciary.
The report also indicates that Benin’s fragile National Integrity System (NIS) has led to an erosion of citizens’ trust in their public institutions and authorities. This finding is corroborated by the results of a recent citizen survey where 79 per cent of respondents in Benin felt that government was not doing enough to fight corruption in their country.
The administration of President Talon has the opportunity to respond concretely to the Beninese people’s aspiration for a corruption-free country where their well-being is put before individual, self-serving interests and where all citizens are equal before the law.
As the Beninese government is currently finalising an action plan for the next five years, the launch of this NIS assessment report could not have come at a better time. President Talon has an opportunity to translate into action his expressed commitment to turning the tide against corruption.
The NIS assessment report recommends the following key steps:
- Reforms in the justice system to make it more independent and effective.
- Reforms in the financial and fiscal justice system to make it functional and effective
- Undertake legal and institutional reforms to ensure compliance with fiscal norms and standards and accountability in public procurement
- Ending impunity for corrupt political leaders by reforming the High Court of Justice.
- Prosecute cases that have been before court for the past five years and enforce asset declarations, as per the anti-corruption law of 2011 and ensure all declarations are made public.
- Strengthen the mandate and capacity of the National Anti-Corruption Authority (ANLC), and
- Ensure the coordination of anti-corruption effort at the national level through the adoption of a national strategy and a framework for its implementation.
Implementing the above recommendations would send the unequivocal message that President Talon’s electoral promises to fight corruption in Benin were not just mere slogans. This would also go a long way towards rebuilding citizens’ trust in their public institutions.
Image: Creative Commons, Flickr / Guillaume Collin & Pauline