Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is under growing pressure to put an end to rampant corruption.
Five years after the Arab Spring, a majority of people throughout the Middle East and North Africa region believe that corruption is on the rise, according to a new survey.
Results of the poll by Transparency International, released on Tuesday, revealed that 61 percent of people in a cross-section of MENA countries saw an increase in corruption over the past year, while nearly a third said they had paid a bribe in order to access basic services. The survey included close to 11,000 respondents from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen.
Although corruption was one of the catalysts that drove people to the streets during the Arab Spring uprisings, the results indicate that governments “have not listened” to what their people want, Ghada Zughayar, director of Transparency International’s MENA department, told Al Jazeera.
“It’s as if the Arab Spring never happened,” noted Jose Ugaz, the organisation’s chairman.
Nearly one in three respondents said they had paid a bribe when dealing with the court system in their country, while one in four had paid a bribe to police. Government officials, tax officials and members of parliament were viewed as the most corrupt groups overall.
“Governments used many justifications, like fighting terrorism, to silence citizens’ voices demanding accountability from public officials,” Zughayar said. “The governments have escalated their attack against civil liberties and civil society.”
The continuance of armed conflict and the return of authoritarianism mean there is a breakdown in accountable public institutions.
Fear of retaliation and a lack of faith that anyone would be held accountable were among the most common reasons for people declining to report corruption, the report found. Such fears appear to be founded: Nearly 40 percent of those who reported bribery said they suffered retaliation, while fewer than a third said authorities subsequently took action.
“These experiences indicate that whistleblowers and witnesses of corrupt acts need to be better protected, and also that reporting channels need to be made more effective,” the report noted.
Among the nine countries surveyed, there was significant variation. In Lebanon, which has been without a president since 2014 and remains in the midst of a rubbish crisis, and in wartorn Yemen, overwhelming majorities (92 percent and 84 percent respectively) said that corruption had increased over the past year. In Egypt and Morocco, meanwhile, the numbers were much lower (28 percent and 26 percent respectively).
Zughayar noted that the results for each country must be viewed in context: For example, despite the lower percentage of Egyptians citing a rise in corruption, 50 percent of respondents from Egypt said they had paid a bribe to access a basic service. This discrepancy could be because many already viewed corruption levels as high in Egypt, and did not perceive a change in the past year, she said.
Countries surveyed by Transparency International were selected for a variety of reasons, including on-the-ground safety and available resources, the organisation said.
“It is telling that the survey does not include countries with some of the highest levels of corruption: Libya and Iraq, where conflict rages but oil proceeds provide incentives to siphon off funds through corruption,” Christoph Wilcke, a senior researcher with the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera after reviewing the survey.
“The continuance of armed conflict and the return of authoritarianism mean there is a breakdown in accountable public institutions and the ability for people to report corruption and press for those responsible to face justice,” Wilcke added.
In terms of fighting corruption at the state level, most people across the region said their government was doing “very badly” or “fairly badly”, with negative responses ranging from 91 percent in Yemen to 58 percent in Egypt, where former chief auditor Hesham Geneina was forced out of his job this year after highlighting corruption among government officials in the country.
There was much variation in the scale of bribery allegations, with just 4 percent of respondents in Jordan saying they had paid a bribe in order to access public services, compared with 77 percent in Yemen. Transparency International pointed out that the statistics did not account for the use of personal connections, known as “wasta”, to expedite access to public services: “This form of nepotism is reported to be prevalent in parts of the region, and further research should assess the extent of this practice.”
The report contained a number of recommendations to help combat corruption throughout the region, including the creation of mechanisms to hold corrupt officials to account, a safe environment for corruption reporting, and the establishment of “a politically independent and well-resourced anti-corruption commission that is given the lead and authority to fight corruption”.