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Corruption risks in Middle East and North Africa threaten national responses to COVID-19

Preventing corruption in public procurement and privately donated funds will save lives and mitigate the worst economic impacts of the crisis

A working group of seven national chapters of Transparency International are today calling upon governments across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to adopt urgent and practical recommendations to prevent corruption from undermining the response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Read the recommendations (English / Arabic)

The recommendations call for transparency and accountability measures to provide much needed anti-corruption oversight in two critical areas: public procurement and privately donated funds from wealthy individuals and companies. These measures do not intend to slow the response to the crisis, but to ensure that money intended to save lives and restore livelihoods is not stolen or misused. The working group includes Transparency International chapters in Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, and Tunisia.

“Across the region governments have enacted emergency powers to address the pandemic and its impact on the most vulnerable people,” Kinda Hattar, Transparency International’s MENA Regional Advisor, said. “We welcome the speed with which governments have responded, but unless anti-corruption measures are implemented during this crisis, corruption will cost lives and slow the economic recovery from the crisis.”

The recommendations identify areas of risk in public procurement, and provide preventative measure to address them. Key amongst them are calls to:

  • Establish or allocate an online platform to provide information on public procurement and bidding to mitigate opacity in procurement and the awarding of contracts;
  • Ensure the names of the beneficial owners and shareholders of companies awarded contracts are publicly available and accessible;
  • Provide complaint hotlines to report corruption and misconduct, implement laws and actions against corrupt actors, and provide whistleblower and witness protection

The recommendations also address corruption risks in private donation funds. In the immediate wake of the crisis, many people rushed to assist governments in their response to the crisis. While welcoming this at a time of national need, governments must apply the principles of good governance to managing these funds.

Key recommendations related to private donation funds include:

  • A single official authority to have responsibility for calculating the funds and implementing a clear management strategy for their use;
  • Publication of the value of donations along with the names of donors online through an official website;
  • Providing transparent procedures for the distribution of aid to the unemployed or small enterprises, in a manner that guarantees justice and transparency.

During emergencies, the need to move quickly often overrides the need for oversight measures and can exacerbate corruption risks. By ensuring resources intended to help the most vulnerable are not diverted into the pockets of the corrupt, transparency and accountability will save lives.

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