Tunisia not making headway in the fight against corruption

A recent Transparency International report showed that Tunisia retreated by one spot from last year’s ranking.
Tuesday 28/01/2020
 In this file photo taken on March 23, 2018 Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed addresses parliament during a session in the capital Tunis, amidst calls to reshuffle government. (AFP)
In this file photo taken on March 23, 2018 Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed addresses parliament during a session in the capital Tunis, amidst calls to reshuffle government. (AFP)

Once more, bureaucracy has punctured the anti-corruption balloon in Tunisia. Assessments show that the weakness of state institutions and laxity of the authorities to end this phenomenon are main reasons for the drop in Tunisia’s ranking on Transparency International's 2019 ranking.

The gravity of corruption in Tunisia lies primarily in authorities’ blindness to the root of the phenomenon. The popular consensus is that corruption has been exacerbated to the point that it cannot be addressed. However, there is also widespread belief that both the people and the authorities are responsible for this problem.

Data on transparency reveal that Tunisia has not made any progress regarding corruption in the past nine years, which means that state agencies, despite the arsenal of legislation they possess, suffer from "clinical death" and that everyone contributes to institutionalising corruption and legalising it.

A look at this troublesome issue, which is most harmful to the Tunisian economy, shows that the battle against corruption is not being won because of the failure to encircle it. That reinforces the popular conviction that the authorities’ fight against this scourge is an illusion.

A recent Transparency International report showed that Tunisia retreated by one spot from last year’s ranking. Tunisia now ranks 74th out of 180 countries.

It is clear that the so-called war launched by the government of Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed in 2017 on corruption, smuggling and financing protests, all of which damaged the country’s economy, has not produced results because of partisan quotas and political shenanigans.

Transparency International decried the absence of serious political will to fight corruption as the cause of Tunisia’s decline in its ranking. It pointed to the exacerbation of impunity, coupled with focusing on specific files for political gain, as well as failing to activate the law protecting whistle-blowers.

Transparency International’s report blasted all three branches in Tunisia for unwillingness to address the root causes of corruption.

Practically all top officials who rose to power had pledged to fight corruption and promised severe punishments for the guilty but none of them has dared eradicate this malignant tumour or even reduce it. The political class seems to despise corruption on the surface but will do nothing against it in reality so these insecure and trembling hands definitely cannot come up with a solution to the problem.

While it might seem more or less reassuring that Tunisia ranked sixth among Arab countries, it is still unacceptable and Tunisian authorities need to change how they deal with fraud and bribery to move up in Transparency International’s classifications. If the authorities continue to ignore the roots of the problem, the state will lose revenues at the rate of 2% annually, the National Anti-Corruption Authority stated.

The Tunisian Governance Association said the country's losses because of poor governance and corruption are much greater than the authority's estimates, putting them at 3-4% of annual growth.

Transparency International’s ranking shows that Tunisia comes after the United Arab Emirates, which ranks 21st globally, then Qatar (30th), followed by Saudi Arabia (51st), Oman (56th) and Jordan (60th).

Since 2010, Tunisia has been ranked in the 73-75 range, which leaves no doubt that heavy bureaucracy permeates the state’s institutions and that the anti-corruption marketing campaigns during the past nine years were just a smokescreen.

The low ranking does not inspire confidence in the Tunisian economy. Investors refer to such ratings when deciding where to invest. Even if the authorities bypass this obstacle, other factors play against achieving development goals.

Corruption was a hindrance to achieving a qualitative shift in the nature of the Tunisian economy and was behind taking investment capital to neighbouring countries. Perhaps the biggest evidence of Tunisia’s foundering economic activity and of the reluctance of local and foreign sources to invest in the Tunisian economy is the state’s increasing reliance on loans from global financial institutions and countries sympathetic to its emerging democracy to cover the large budget deficit.

Many studies on corruption by local organisations monitoring authorities' performance the past few years confirmed a worsening relationship between investment and development, on the one hand, and the efficiency of government institutions, on the other. Sustainable development requires transparency and real punitive actions against corruption networks, both of which are lacking in Tunisia.

The level of administrative and financial corruption and smuggling has increased significantly annually in a way that it can no longer be overlooked as an important factor impeding economic growth. Data indicate that Tunisia's annual losses because of this phenomenon total $830 million.

We have monitored repeatedly and through daily transactions with the administration the spread of corruption in many state structures. It is easy to see that the exacerbation of the phenomenon of parallel economy has cost the treasury billions of dollars in losses annually since the overthrow of the regime of the President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

Data from the Tunisian Association of Public Financial Controllers, which monitors interactions between government departments, indicate that approximately 90% of the population attribute the exacerbation of bribery to the absence of any political will to fight it and to the widespread belief that corruption has turned into a culture and has become a regular aspect of facilitating administrative procedures.