Can the fight against corruption help Arab states sell painful economic reforms?

Throughout the Arab world, unpunished governments fly under the flag of fighting corruption.

Tunisia, in the midst of an annual anti-corruption campaign, passed the law in July, demanding that officials and members of parliament declare their assets.

In the same month, the Egyptian authorities arrested the head of the customs body of the country for bribery.

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And in Jordan, the government seized production and smuggling counterfeit cigarettes with names to launch their own anti-corruption campaign. King Abdullah even issued a rare appeal to the Jordanian cabinet, saying that "we will destroy corruption."

"No one is above the law, no matter who he or she is," the Tsar told the ministers, adding: "The message for all is the red line."

So, what's going on?

Ask Jordan Mohammed Hussein, the owner of the Amman candy store, which is $ 5,000 in debt and can not meet this month's rent.

Mr. Hussein sees one of the reasons for his economic and economic problems in his country: "untouchables".

"Big officials, mafia bosses, corrupt businessmen," says Hussein. "They are stealing millions from the treasury to build villas, and we are forced to live for a few dollars."

Hussein lived all his life in Amman, but his burdens and his views could easily fit into any Arab capital.

On the streets of Amman, Tunis, Cairo and even Riyadh, citizens are angered by the growing gap between the haves and have-nots. And they challenge the economic and political elites who, they said, have enriched themselves from the state, but now expect that taxpayers will pay the bill for economic reforms.

Today, several Arab states are adopting International Economic Reforms and the World Bank, recommended by economic reforms to reduce bloated state sectors, reduce subsidies and raise taxes. But they understand that in order to review the social contract with the citizens used for government handouts, the cessation of corruption – real or perceived – is of vital importance.

Governments have every reason to be serious about this issue: corruption was one of the main problems in which demonstrators took to the streets during the Arab spring in Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Yemen and Oman.

In January, the fight against corruption became the slogan of Tunisians protesting against riots and riots; in June, the nationwide protests in Jordan that broke out over the income tax law began demanding that specific officials be imprisoned for the alleged vaccination.

"When the government raises taxes, cuts wages, reduces the public sector, the answer that comes from citizens is that the government is corrupt," said Youssef Sheriff, a political analyst from Tunisia.

"This creates obstacles for any reform."


According to Transparency International's report of 2016 in nine Arab states, 61 percent of the citizens surveyed said they believe that corruption is growing in their countries, and 68 percent said their government is "working poorly" in the fight against corruption.

In Jordan, 75 percent of respondents said they believed that corruption had increased, while an Arab barometer survey in 2016 showed that 79 percent believed that state institutions were corrupt.

In an August poll conducted by the International Institute for Research Studies at the International Republican Institute, 87 percent of respondents from Tunisia said that the economy is somewhat or very bad, and 72 percent said that fighting corruption is the best way to improve the economy.

For many citizens, corruption is not only the cause of economic problems, but also the cessation of its treatment. The prison of corrupt officials and return the stolen funds to the treasury and budget deficits will be closed, investment projects are financed, prosperity achieved.

Arab citizens often view corruption in terms of shadow megaprojects or syphilis of public funds, but experts say that the vast majority of corruption taking place in the Arab world is much more subtle and small-scale.

It can be as simple as a customs official looking in another way when a cargo arrives, a government clerk issuing licenses, not following proper rules or documents, or hiring an unqualified friend or family member to a government post.

Instead of massing cash flows from major theft, it is a slow dropper of corruption, nepotism and mismanagement, which, when taken in its entirety, is worth tens of dollars, if not hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

"People do not know that there are other kinds of corruption," says Rania Bader, board member and spokesman for Rasheed (Transparency International-Jordan). "And this administrative corruption is much more common than financial corruption."

According to the World Bank, the indirect costs of corruption, although difficult to quantify, are also very real: poor infrastructure, poor access to services, inefficient tax breaks, loss of foreign investment and barriers to local entrepreneurs to start a business.


But even if governments have the political will and the ability to go after transplantation and corruption, they must first turn to a huge lack of public confidence.

"Part of the problem is that in many situations the government does not seem to be transparent in its policy and decision-making," said Musa Shtevi, director of the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan. "People see that the government is saying something and doing something else."

The lack of transparency affected the authority of Arab governments when it comes to economic policy.

In Jordan, Tunisia, and now also in Egypt, despite the fact that reforms implemented with austerity have become vital for saving the economy: increasing taxes and reducing hiring to control debt – inflation, unemployment and the cost of living are still growing .

"The logical conclusion for people is that this policy serves the interests of the political and economic elite of the country illegally and legally," says Mr. Shtevi.

Instead of a vacuum, rumors were filled: stories of princes who bought whole European cities, and government ministers preparing private jets loaded with stolen antiquities to flee to London homes, must have police with a warrant.

In Jordan, citizens swear that police cars – three in the front and three in the back – accompanied trucks carrying smuggled counterfeit cigarettes form the port of Aqaba to Amman to make sure they were not stopped by customs.

With little evidence, citizens openly condemn businessmen, ministers, tribal leaders, members of parliament, royal advisors, royalties and heads of state.

"I would not be surprised if [President] Trump was somehow involved, "Hussein says, unloading Keith Kats' huge carton of paper in his Amman candy store, two customers nod in agreement. "Everything is possible".

Selective APPROACH

But if the Arab governments hope that anti-corruption measures will soften the opposition to their painful reforms, Arab publics began to suspect in campaigns, viewing them not as a crusade to drain the swamp, but the political weapons used by regimes to settle old estimates,

Even in Tunisia, which seven years after its revolution created democratic institutions and adopted strong anti-corruption legislation, corruption cases were brought only against former government officials who recently fell out with the ruling coalition.

In Jordan, citizens see that the government pays special attention to "small potatoes" – the average people who run the fronts of illegal business, and not the powers behind them.

Many quickly note that while Jordan pursues a little-known distributor of counterfeit cigarettes with cigarettes, much larger fish, Walid Kurdi, the husband of the father's aunt of the king and former chief executive of Jordan Phosphates Mine Co., remain in freedom in the UK five years after the verdict to 37 years in prison for embezzling millions.

The most extreme example is in Saudi Arabia, where Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman led a campaign against corruption, which resulted in the arrest of 300 rival princes and businessmen at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, which many called "cleaning."


Weak institutions also damage public confidence in the ability of Arab states to fight corruption: Egypt, experts and reports say, lacks independent judiciary, while the progressive laws of Tunisia are applied unevenly.

For Jordan, the lack of a strong and independent parliament undermines efforts to combat corruption.

"Our role as MPs is to monitor, uncover corruption and bring government and institutions accountable," said Saddam Habaszne, a member of parliament from the southern Jordanian city of Karak. "When we are silent about corruption, which, as we know, is happening, that we are all – we are complicit in corruption."

The World Bank and Transparency International have proposed several reforms to unite with Arab anti-corruption campaigns, such as proper legislative oversight, external audit, transparency in government and commercial rules, and a declaration declaration for officials and politicians.

Perhaps the most important steps proposed by Transparency International are wage increases for civil servants, procurement reform and free access to information. The goal is to show transparently how the government appoints contracts, and also reduces incentives for officials and civil servants to abuse their posts.

A few big names behind bars will not hurt either.

"As soon as we see that the strong side has kept attention, then we learn that the rule of law is observed," Hussein says.

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