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Mideast: 1 in 3 Bribes to Access Basic Public Services

Corruption Perceptions Index 2015 | Credit: Transparency International

ROME, May 3 2016 (IPS) - Just an ordinary citizen living in a Middle East and North of Africa country and requring a birth certificate for your new-born daughter? No problem—just take something with you, either some cash, a pack of cigarettes or buy a glass of tea with milk and a lot of sugar.

Or a rich Middle-Eastern and want to strike a good business deal? No problem again –all you need is to carry with you an envelope full of banknotes or ask for the bank account of the concerned high government official, preferably abroad.

You may say that paying bribes is a worldwide practise that may have different names—commission, compensation, gratification, or maybe just a little present. You would be right. In fact, Transparency International (TI) estimates that more than 6 billion people live in countries with “a serious corruption problem.”

Poor Countries Lose One Trillion Dollars a Year to Corruption

In the case of poor countries, 1 trillion dollars a year is lost to corruption, TI estimates.

The Middle East and North Africa is no exception. In fact, paying bribes to access even the basic public service in this region of 22 states, home to nearly 400 million people, has become a deeply rooted “normal”, at least over the last seven decades or so, i.e. since many of them accessed formal independence.

This is basically due to two major facts: long decades of colonialism pushing the majority of citizens more and more towards the very bottom of growing impoverishment. And a widespread phenomenon of corrupted government officials.

Credit: Transparency International

Credit: Transparency International

Anyway, big and small corruption is so extended over the whole region, that a new Transparency International report issued on May 3 estimated that nearly one in three citizens who tried to access basic public services in the MENA region paid a bribe, showing that governments across the region have failed to hear their citizens’ voices against corruption.

According to a public opinion survey by the international anti-corruption group of nearly 11,000 adults in 9 countries and territories, the majority of people (61 per cent) across the region think that the level of corruption has gone up over the last 12 months.

The 30 per cent who paid a bribe for a basic service represent the equivalent of nearly 50 million people, TI reported.

“It’s as if the Arab Spring never happened. Leaders who fail to stop secrecy, fail to promote free speech and fail to stop bribery also fail to bring dignity to the daily lives of people living in the Middle East and North Africa. Peoples’ human rights are seriously affected,” said José Ugaz, Chair of Transparency International.

Public dissatisfaction with corrupt leaders and regimes was a key catalyst for change in the region, notably with Arab Spring protests, says Transparency International.

Five years on, it adds, the survey finds governments have done little to enforce laws against corruption and bribery, nor have they done enough for transparency and accountability through the promotion of freedoms of the press, civil society and for individuals.

“In Lebanon, numbers are alarming as nine in ten people (92 per cent) say that they think corruption has increased,” says TI. “Government officials, tax officials and members of parliament are perceived to be the most corrupt groups in the region.”

Based on the findings of the survey, here are Transparency International’s four top recommendations:

— Governments in the region must speak out immediately and publicly about their commitment to end corruption. They must also finally deliver on their anti-corruption commitments made globally and regionally, such as under the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and the Arabic Convention for Combating Corruption.

— Governments must eradicate impunity and bring the corrupt to justice so they can take responsibility for the consequences of their actions

— Governments must create a safe and enabling environment for civil society and the media to fight and report corruption.

— Governments must involve their citizens in the fight against corruption and create the space to hold institutions to account and to help law enforcement institutions. This is especially important when the majority of citizens (58 per cent) believe they have the power to make a difference.

The Global Corruption Barometer 2016 question module was implemented by the Afrobarometer network and by several national partners in the Arab Barometer network.

All fieldwork was completed using a face-to-face survey methodology. The survey samples were selected and weighted to be nationally representative of all adults aged 18 and above living in each country/territory.

From villages in rural India to the corridors of power in Brussels, Transparency International works to give voice to the victims and witnesses of corruption. “We work together with governments, businesses and citizens to stop the abuse of power, bribery and secret deals,” it says.

“As a global movement with one vision, we want a world free of corruption. Through chapters in more than 100 countries and an international secretariat in Berlin, we are leading the fight against corruption to turn this vision into reality.“

All this is fine. The point is: who dares to put the cat in the bag?

Click here for the full report. Download the report | View online

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