Egypt faces uphill battle against corruption

Sunday 28/05/2017
Broken morale. A man walks past graffiti depicting poverty and homelessness in downtown Cairo. (Reuters)

Cairخ - When Egyptian real es­tate developer Has­san tried building an apartment block without paying bribes, officials stalled the project, going so far as to suggest there were ancient relics beneath the lot.
Hassan buckled and found a mid­dleman to disperse the bribes.
Bribery and corruption have been rife in Egypt, where a traffic police­man can look past a violation if a crumpled bill finds its way into his pocket.
The government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has decided to crack down, with each month bring­ing news of stings ensnaring a cor­rupt official.
Corruption “breaks people’s mo­rale and gives them a feeling that there is no hope,” Sisi has said. It was one of the main causes of the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.
Critics, however, say that despite the crackdown, more work has to be done to fight corruption.
“The only thing that changed is the faces,” said Hassan, a pseudo­nym.
Since 2015, the Administrative Control Authority (ACA) has pros­ecuted several high-profile cases, including an agriculture minister forced to resign and later sentenced to ten years in prison for taking bribes.
In January, a senior judge hanged himself in custody a day after his ar­rest for alleged corruption.
“The ACA’s efforts were very fruit­ful and there is a noticeable decline in corruption incidents” reported in the media and in government state­ments, said Walaa Gad al-Karim, Partners for Transparency’s general manager.
The ACA declined several inter­view requests.
Analysts said high-profile stings alone cannot end corruption. A le­gal overhaul is needed, they said, including guarantees of freedom of information, protections for whistleblowers and autonomy for agencies tasked with battling cor­ruption.
“There is a very strong anti-cor­ruption political discourse as the president is always talking about fighting corruption, but we need this to be translated into legislation faster,” said Gad al-Karim.
Egypt scored 34 on Transparency International’s 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index, dropping two points from the previous year. A score of zero is highly corrupt while 100 is very clean.
The decline was partly because of “restrictions on civil society and public scrutiny over corruption,” said Kinda Hattar, Transparency In­ternational regional adviser for the Middle East and North Africa.
Hisham Geneina, the former head of the Central Auditing Authority (CAA), has become a cautionary tale for officials who are too outspoken on corruption. He was fired and sentenced to jail after publicising a study based on 2012-15 reports that calculated the cost of corruption at about $33 billion. His sentence was suspended on appeal.
“Geneina crossed an important red line, which stipulates that the independence provided to the CAA has always been conditional on the confidentiality of their data,” said Osama Diab, an anti-corruption re­searcher with the Egyptian Initia­tive for Personal Rights (EIPR).
A July 2015 decree in which Sisi gave himself the right to sack over­sight institutions’ heads and mem­bers “adds to their direct subordina­tion to the executive authority,” the EIPR said in a 2016 report.
Corruption costs the country a lot of money and occasionally lives.
Losses to state coffers from sell­ing state land at below-market prices translate into losses in state services, said Gad al-Karim.
“Egypt is known for buildings that collapse on its residents where buildings weren’t done in accord­ance with proper specifications,” said Hattar.
The low salaries of civil serv­ants and policemen contribute to the phenomenon. Many of Egypt’s civil servants make 1,200 pounds — about $66 — monthly, the public sector’s minimum wage. The aver­age low-ranking policeman, the sort Egyptians are more likely to inter­act with on a daily basis, makes less than $165, an officer said, although Egyptian media have reported high­er salaries for them.
“Three-quarters of my colleagues have problems in their homes be­cause their wives believe the me­dia,” said the officer, who requested anonymity.
When Danya, also a pseudonym, was pulled over with an expired driver’s licence and paid a fine of 500 pounds ($27.50), a police officer told her: “If you had paid the po­liceman back there 50 pounds, you wouldn’t have had to pay the 500.”
Hassan said he would pay higher fees to compensate underpaid offi­cials “if this money will actually go to the government.”
(Agence France-Presse)