The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy organized an academic conference in Tunis on October 26, 2019 in cooperation with the National Anti-Corruption Commission, titled 'Combatting Corruption: Proposals for the Next Government'. The conference was comprised of a morning session containing a number of lectures by researchers and experts in the field, during which a number of proposals were presented to the incoming government on how best to fight corruption.
The conference opened with a welcome speech by the Director of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, Dr. Radwan Masmoudi. Dr. Masmoudi explained that the conference was being held at an important moment in Tunisia, after the country had successfully held free and fairparliamentary and presidential elections, and was preparing for handover to a new government. All stakeholders unanimously recognize the fight against corruption asa national issue, including parties and civil society, in addition to it being cited as one of the key priorities for parliamentary candidates and the new President, Mr. Kais Saied.
Dr. Masmoudi stressed the need to turn the slogans of the electoral campaign into action plans that can be quickly and efficiently implemented in order to combat corruption. He pointed out that the Tunisian state has succeeded in ending dictatorship by establishing national democratic institutions, and in overcoming the threat of terrorism. The biggest challenge facing all the country's institutions is now corruption, and all efforts must be combined to fight it as it poses a significant threat to the national economy, particularly to investment. According to analysts, corruption costs the Tunisian economy at least 4 percent growth annually.
In this context, the Center organized this conference in order to draw on the views of experts and on the work of the Anti-Corruption Commission, which has been working for years to develop strategies and proposals and present them to the government. Dr. Radwan also emphasized the need to change cultural norms so as to encourage people to contribute to anti-corruption efforts by reporting corruption. He also highlighted the role of imams in drawing on the teachings and values of Islam to contribute to anti-corruption efforts, as well as the role of youth. He pointed out that this work falls within the objectives of the Center through continuous training of all of these stakeholders.
The first speaker was Mr. Chawki Tebib, President of the National Anti-Corruption Commission. He began by presenting an account of the most important efforts in the field of combating corruption since the revolution, including the establishment of the Commission in 2014. He presented a number of recommendations to the future government, which he stressed fall under the government’s existing powers and can be approved in a short period of time, within a maximum period of six months. He highlighted the importance of monitoring implementation and holding the government accountable for progress.
Mr. Tebib stressed that it is more important to tackle the system of corruption as a whole than to focus simply on holding accountable those involved in corruption. He called for the government to allocate a budget to support implementation of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy and to bring all the stakeholders together for a dialogue in order to come up with practical steps that all can agree on. The second recommendation he made was to launch an awareness-raising campaign across various media against corruption of all kinds, and authorize a comprehensive audit and survey of the reports of all monitoring, inspection and audit bodies and the Court of Auditors for at least the last three years. Mr. Tebib also called for expanding the application of electronic systems for public procurement and reviewing public sector appointments that are alleged to be linked to corruption or nepotism.
Among the most prominent proposals made by the President of the Commission was the issuing of executive orders for the application of important laws, including the Law on Declaration of Interests, which the Prime Minister has not issued to date for certain categories of individuals. He also called for the Prime Minister to implement the Law on the Economic and Financial Judicial Division and its administrative support body, which has been delayed despite the adoption of the Organic Law to establish this judicial branch.
Mr. Tebib added that the next government should find solutions to the fall in the number of investigating judges on corruption from nine investigating judges in 2012 to seven. He also called on the incoming government to support civil society and specialized media in the field of investigative journalism and corruption through public funding, and not to leave them to rely on external support alone.
The second intervention was by Mr. Fawzi Aribi, a legal adviser at the National Anti-Corruption Commission. He explained that the Commission undertakes preventive efforts such as building a strong governance culture, proposing anti-corruption policies and engaging civil society, in addition to remedial work such as investigating complaints and referring them to the relevant authorities. Mr. Aribi explained that the role of the Commission is to issue guidelines for the various oversight bodies, provide opinions on anti-corruption legal texts and raise awareness on the issue of corruption. He pointed out that the Commission’s regional branches have a number of partnership agreements with Europe, Africa and the Middle East as well as with municipalities.
On the other hand, Mr. Aribi highlighted a number of shortcomings that must be remedied, including the need to implement agreements signed with ministries. He made a number of proposals to the incoming government, including better governance of oversight and audit bodies, introducing an obligation for these bodies to issue regular reports and make them publicly available, speeding up the revision of the Law on Associations and Political Parties and setting up a public website explaining public procurement procedures, in addition to improving governance of extractive industries, accelerating the revision of the Hydrocarbons and Mines Code, publishing uniform procedural guidelines for all customs authorities, and continuing efforts to digitize the customs system.
At the end of his speech, Mr. Aribi stressed the need for improved governance of the health sector and updating specifications related to the sector, particularly the need to monitor the use of public funds by monitoring and tracking the exploitation of public sector benefits.
The third intervention was by Dr. Sami Brahem, researcher at the Center for Economic and Social Studies and Research in Tunis. Dr. Brahem’s intervention focused on a set of proposals prepared in the framework of a project between the Center and the National Anti-Corruption Commission, with the participation of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, based on the partners’ belief that the religious sector could make an important contribution to the fight against corruption. The first proposals focused on improving the governance of religious affairs, including financial aspects of the sector. Dr. Brahem explained that the best way to reduce the influence of uncontrolled private funding in the religious sector is to establish a new system of endowments overseen by the state that guarantees complete transparency, in addition to digitizing the religious sector in order to ensure proper documentation and follow-up.
Dr. Brahem stressed that involving the religious sector and its personnel in the fight against corruption would help create a new culture of anti-corruption, by making use of religious platforms to encourage the public to play a positive role and draw on religious leaders’ influence and outreach capacities in positive ways. He proposed the creation of an optional certified course and a research master's program on the fight against corruption at Zaytuna University, in addition to creating a program of continuous training for imams. In conclusion, he stressed the need to develop a set of guidelines for imams encouraging them to contribute to the fight against corruption as a national, social and religious issue.
The final intervention was by Mr. Mohammed Nouri, an expert in Islamic economics and finance,who began by analyzing Tunisian society’s inability to overcome corruption. He argued that corruption expands when good people abandon their role in exposing and tackling corrupt practices. Mr. Nouri stressed the need for a genuine political and social will to tackle corruption and a comprehensive and deep approach to dismantling this phenomenon and developing strategies to defeat it. He presented an economic approach that drew on the experiences of countries that have succeeded in combatting corruption such as Singapore, Malaysia, Georgia, Bulgaria, Kenya and others.
Mr. Nouri argued that the first step to succeed in tackling corruption lies in viewingit as one of the root causes of economic problems. He set out a number of different types of corruption that must be addressed and which impact negatively on the economy. He pointed out that corruption has a direct cost, through which we can determine its negative impact on economic development, which analysts say represents 4 percent of the growth rate in Tunisia. However, there is also an indirect costsince corruption hinders economic growth and reduces domestic and foreign investment incentives.
In conclusion, Mr. Nouri stressed the importance of a value-based approach to the fight against corruption, based on the need to draw on tolerant Islamic values and ethics, including the role of educational reform and of the family. He also called for developing executive oversight mechanisms and monitoring of markets and the use of public resources, in addition to combatting poverty, rotating public sector workers, improving oversight of government spending, diversifying funding sources and breaking up monopolies.
In the question and answer session, many members of the audience stressed the need for Tunisian diplomacy to make more active efforts to recover ill-gotten gains abroad of former regime members. Others expressed their dissatisfaction with national media and their failure to address the issue of combating corruption. Interventions also touched on the risks of growing corruption, especially in the civil service. Members of the audience also called on the state to assume its responsibility in confronting corruption and tax evasion by setting up practical new measures to restrict corruption and reduce poverty and exploitation.