With the same average score of 39 as last year, there is little progress in improving control of corruption in the Middle East and North Africa region.
With a score of 71, the United Arab Emirates is the best regional performer, followed by Qatar (62). At the bottom of the region, Syria scores 13, followed by Yemen with a score of 15. Both countries are significant decliners on the CPI, with Yemen dropping eight points since 2012 and Syria dropping 13 points during the same period.
Lack of political integrity
The region faces significant corruption challenges that highlight a lack of political integrity. According to our recent report, Global Corruption Barometer — Middle East and North Africa, nearly one in two people in Lebanon is offered bribes in exchange for their votes, while more than one in four receives threats if they don’t vote a certain way.
In a region where fair and democratic elections are the exception, state capture is commonplace. Powerful individuals routinely divert public funds to their own pockets at the expense of ordinary citizens. Separation of powers is another challenge: independent judiciaries with the potential to act as a check on the executive branch are rare or non-existent.
To improve citizens’ trust in government, countries must build transparent and accountable institutions and prosecute wrongdoing. They should also hold free and fair elections and allow for citizen engagement and participation in decision-making.
Country to watch: Tunisia
With a score of 43, Tunisia remains at a standstill on the CPI despite advances in anti- corruption legislation over the past five years. Recent laws to protect whistleblowers and improve access to information, combined with stronger social accountability and space for civil society, are important steps, but they are not enough.
For anti-corruption laws to be effective, decrees and implementing orders from the executive branch are needed. In addition, financial and human resources are vital to strengthen the country’s anti-corruption commission and increase its independence.
To date, few political leaders have been prosecuted for corruption, and recovery of stolen assets is slow. An independent judiciary is another major challenge. While the recent establishment of a judiciary council is encouraging, the council is not yet fully operational and still lacks total independence from the legislative branch.
In Tunisia, the lack of enforcement of laws and regulations is a major challenge. Without proper implementation mechanisms and administrative decrees, laws will remain ineffective.
Country to watch: Saudi Arabia
With a score of 53, Saudi Arabia improved by four points since last year. However, its score does not reflect the myriad problems in the country, including a dismal human rights record and severe restrictions on journalists, political activists and other citizens.
In 2017, the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman carried out an ”anti-corruption” purge as part of his reform of the country. Despite government claims of recovering approximately US$106 billion of stolen assets, there was no due process, transparent investigation or fair and free trial for suspects.
This year, Saudi Arabia takes on the presidency of the G20. As it assumes this leadership role, the country must end its crackdown on civil liberties and strengthen further checks on the executive branch to foster transparency and accountability.
The social and economic reforms that helped improve Saudi Arabia’s business environment and attract foreign investment came with a heavy human rights price tag.
Image: Shutterstock / Hiba Al Kallas
For any press enquiries please contact email@example.com