Rethinking corruption in the Middle East and North Africa

The following article is from Transparency International’s annual report.

“When we opened, the public accepted corruption as a way of life,” says Ali Lahlou, Coordinator of the anti-corruption legal advice centre run by our Moroccan TI chapter to help people tackle corruption.

Although the Middle East and North Africa are being rocked by demands for transparent, accountable government, Ali summarises a crippling problem across the region: corruption is so endemic that for a long time most people did not think it could be challenged. Corruption has stifled development and destroyed lives throughout society.

Reversing the situation is a major challenge. But we are fighting corruption at both national and grass-root levels.

To get a detailed understanding of what needs to be done, we analysed the strengths and weakness of the sectors which must function effectively to ensure integrity in society. These include the executive, legislature, judiciary, regulatory agencies, civil society, business sector and media. By assessing the capacity, transparency and accountability of the main public institutions and non-state actors in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and Palestine, we identified major gaps in anti-corruption provisions. All four countries displayed limited understanding of concepts such as transparency, and low resolve to address the problem.

“The research shows that all four countries must strive for good governance,” said Chantal Uwimana, TI’s Africa and Middle East Director. “Conflict and political turmoil have taken their toll on the fight against corruption, but so has a lack of action to strengthen the legal framework that can hinder and punish corruption.”

States need to bolster the role of parliament and the judiciary, and safeguard the independence of oversight bodies, such as audit offices. The region desperately needs whistleblower protection, freedom of information laws, and regulations preventing conflicts of interest. People’s liberty to participate in public affairs is also crucial.

Huge effort is required to break the belief that corruption in daily life is inevitable. We are working with governments, civil society and the private sector to develop and realise effective anti-corruption reforms. Central to their success will be strengthening local civil society’s capacity to demand better governance and monitor change.

Everyone can make a difference. At the grassroots level, we are inspiring people to take action through the region’s first anti-corruption legal advice centres. Located in Lebanon, Morocco and Palestine (Gaza and the West Bank), they offer free legal advice and support to victims and witnesses of corruption via confidential hotlines and meetings, enabling people to have their cases acted on. The public response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Successes range from improving Palestinian laws on traffic fines, to exposing demands for bribes by government revenue collectors in Morocco. The Lebanese centre helped a mother whose child was raped, after the police were allegedly bribed to ignore her.

Each case gives the centres a better understanding of corruption as it truly occurs. This knowledge fuels evidence-based advocacy campaigns that reshape both legal frameworks and social norms.

“We’ve defied some taboos, in particular against individuals openly challenging public bodies,” says Ali. “Now there’s so much more we can do to stop corruption from holding Morocco back.”


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