The right can still be wrong: Transparency in the MENA region

By Haitham el Khouly and Shahira Emara

Fighting corruption in developing countries is a challenge. However, information can be an extremely powerful tool in exposing corruption. In emerging and transition countries, the balance of information between government and citizens is largely in favor of governments. The right to information enhances transparency and is instrumental in the fight against corruption. Transparency measures need be institutionalized in political agendas in an effective way to ensure consistent prevention procedures in the future.

In oil-producing countries in the Middle East, ruling autocracies tend to own oil revenues and reserves. They are seen to be exceptionally opaque and secretive when it comes to financial budgets, according to Michael Ross, University of California. There, are, however distinct regional variations and there are exceptions to the secrecy rule, Kuwait being a case in point.

In the closing plenary session at the ERF’s 18th Annual Conference, ZiadBahaa-Eldin, Member of the People’s Assembly, Egypt, notes that the most severe type of corruption is the one built into the legal foundation of policies. This problem becomes particularly alarming when the goals of corruption are de facto regulated by legislative bodies.

Fighting corruption is a choice

There are different modalities in fighting corruption and enhancing transparency, among them horizontal accountability defined as the relationship between the executive and legislative functions of governance. The separation of power, social audits, information production, citizen’s score- cards, business competition, open market strategies, allocation of resources through formal channels are all likely to be good places to start ensuring the sustainability of political and social identity, according to Pratap Mehta, Center for Policy Research

Avoid gray areas

In many countries, where there are few transparency measures, it may bedifficult to measure the cost of corruption but it’s easy to see its effects. Public procurement need to be reviewed to eliminate the culture of conflict of interest, and clarify rules to pinpoint corruption. This should all be embedded into a comprehensive binding legitimate body with clear terms and conditions.

All three speakers, seemed to agree that there should be monitoring practices in place to ensure that corruption is not only brought to a halt, it must not be allowed to reoccur in the future. But then who guards the guardians? Who maintains balance when authoritative bodies deviate? Society is a non zero sum game, a strong message that consistently came across from the ERF annual conference. Citizen landscapes need to continue to apply pressure to develop objective standards to measure government. People power is the main effective tool for maintaining equilibrium.

No size fit all

After 3 days at the ERF 18th Annual Conference, unpacking the notion of corruption, the complexity of its definition and measurement, its key determinants and looking at different approaches to fight corruption, it is clear that no one size fits all. There are different solutions in different contexts. Many of those solutions depend on the understanding of intertwined relationship between nations, people and cultures.

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