Report: Fighting Corruption: A Selective Campaign or Signs of a Genuine Political Will

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Wednesday July 12, 2017
Science City, Ibn Khaldun Hall – Tunis, Tunisia

The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy organized a seminar titled “Fighting Corruption: A Selective Campaign or Signs of a Genuine Political Will?” on Wednesday July 12, 2017 at the Ibn Khaldun Hall in Tunis. The speakers were Mr. Shawqi Tbib, President of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, Mr. Noureddine Bhiri, member of the Assembly of People’s Representatives (Ennahdha Party) and Ms. Fadila Gargouri, judge and Head of Department at the Court of Auditors.

After welcoming guests, Dr. Radwan Masmoudi stressed that Tunisian society cannot have combine corruption and democracy. He pointed out that an unremitting war on corruption as part of a national strategy requires unifying all efforts to eradicate this phenomenon and overcome it

At the beginning of his presentation, Mr. Shawqi Tbib pointed out that post-revolutionary governments bear an important part of the responsibility given their lenient approach to opening corruption files at a time when there was great political momentum. He argued that 2016 had witnessed a kind of awakening by the Government, which considered the fight against corruption to be equally as important as the fight against terrorism.

In terms of challenges, Mr. Tbib explained that administrative institutions that form part of the “deep state” are resisting all attempts to reveal the extent of corruption and reach of corrupt networks. The Commission’s investigations showed that 90% of the files received by the Commission concern corruption within the public administration, which benefits from public contracts and tenders. He also criticized the Assembly of People’s Representatives for being slow to adopt the legal framework on combatting corruption. On December 9, 2012, the National Constituent Assembly presented a proposal for a National Anti-Corruption Strategy in a plenary session. This proposal was not ratified until December 9, 2016. Mr. Tbib emphasized that the challenge now is how to implement and apply this framework properly.

As for achievements, Mr. Tbib referred to a number of distinguished laws such as the November 2012 law establishing a specialist financial judicial body to fight corruption, the draft law on disclosure of interests and the law on protection of whistleblowers, which demonstrate the historic role played by members of parliament. However, these reforms must be supported by the executive as a matter of urgency, in addition to applying these laws through a set of implementation acts. The President of the Commission pointed out that the current status of judges in the Court of Auditors prevents them from carrying out their national duties to the fullest and that the Government must enhance their capacities at the security, technical and logistical levels.

With regards to the constitutional commissions to be established under the new Constitution, the Government has proposed a bill that would regulate the functions of these commissions in a way that restricts their powers. Members of Parliament agreed with the Government’s proposal to limit the independence of the constitutional commissions without examining it closely, whereas the Constitution requires that each constitutional commission have its own internal regulations and budget in order to prevent the return of corruption.

As for recommendations, Mr. Tbib stressed that the measures taken by Prime Minister Youssef Chahed represent a first step requiring a great deal of courage as well as a clear policy line. This must be followed by a series of successive and assertive measures in order to ensure the success of the anti-corruption campaign.

At the beginning of his intervention, Mr. Noureddine Bhiri highlighted the importance of the constitutional commissions in tackling corruption as part of a coherent political landscape resulting from the existence of a unified state. Regarding challenges, the Member of Parliament pointed to the impact that lack of resources has had on the National Anti-Corruption Authority’s work, as well as the lack of awareness among its employees of their responsibilities. Judges who were trained in combatting corruption in various European countries were “neglected” as little use was made of their skills and training and they were assigned to other judicial branches such as the Personal Status Branch.

Mr. Bhiri noted that Tunisian history has not witnessed a serious effort to fight corruption because of the alliance between dictatorship and networks of corruption to monopolize power and money. After the revolution, a real debate on corruption emerged and Tunisian society was divided into two categories. There are those who want to know the truth and challenge corruption, and there are those who seek to cast doubt on the campaign and those leading it in order to facilitate the return of corruption. In addition, Mr. Bhiri stressed the fact that Tunisian society’s awareness that corruption is a threat to the state and its existence is still relatively weak.

With regards to recommendations, Mr. Bhiri stressed the importance of collective awareness of the dangers of corruption, the need for political and institutional will, and the need to free ourselves from negative beliefs and fears. At the legislative level, he pointed to the need to implement the law on disclosure of interests in order to put into place the elements needed to ensure greater social awareness of the dangers of corruption and the existence of legislation in line with international standards. Finally, Mr. Bhiri argued that this campaign is an expression of a political choice by the Government and those parties who signed the National Pact, thus translating into action a genuine will on their part to fight corruption.

Ms. Fadila Gargouri introduced the concept of “institutional culture” as the basis for the prevention of corruption. She argued for the need for monitoring and reform through communication and reporting, as well as the introduction of anti-corruption programs, strategic objectives and risk management. Ms. Gargouri pointed out that the Court of Auditors is a body that supports the legitimacy of the state and the proper use of public funds. It refers all files that involve suspicions of corruption to the Public Prosecutor. This process requires a relationship of cooperation between the Court of Auditors, the Assembly of People’s Representatives and the Auditors Branch. The Auditors Branch seeks to assess the administrative conduct of public bodies and to ascertain the degree to which this is in line with their good governance obligations in view of economic requirements.

During the discussion, the expert Mohammed bin Fatima highlighted that in addition to financial and moral corruption, there is a new form of “scientific corruption” in which professors falsely claim to have certain qualifications or publications. He pointed to the need to give this issue social and media attention. A number of attendees also agreed that the Government’s campaign should target both corruption and those implicated in corruption. Others referred to the need for strengthening the role of constitutional commissions and provide them with the necessary tools and resources.

During the discussion, Mr. Tbib pointed out that in order to tackle corruption, respect for state institutions must be maintained as well as the credibility of Members of Parliament. In addition, he referred to the need to strengthen the role of the Auditors Branch in investigating any suspected infringements. Mr. Bhiri stressed the need to cultivate a culture of the supremacy of the law, according to which the corrupt and those implicated with them are duly punished. He noted that intellectual elites have not yet risen to meet this historic challenge.

Ms. Gargouri asserted that the campaign against corruption cannot be selective and limited in time, but should be continuous and not limited to certain institutions. Additionally, she highlighted the need to carry out awareness campaigns aimed at the public in order for all actors to understand their responsibilities fully.