Corruption remains "endemic in the Arab states" while assaults on freedom of expression, press freedoms and civil society continue to escalate, Transparency International's new report warned yesterday.
Nineteen out of 21 Arab states score "below 50" in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) for 2017, which measures the intensity of corruption in the public sector.
While the majority of Arab countries show no significant change in this year's index, on the ground, a number of countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia are taking small yet positive steps towards fighting corruption and increasing transparency and integrity
the report stated.
But Lebanon, although not reflected in the overall CPI score, "made small strides in 2017" by joining the passage of the Access to Information Law and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) which monitors good governance of the oil, gas and mineral industry.
The report goes on to mention that Tunisia "witnessed a setback" with a controversial reconciliation law. A legal loophole which "grants amnesty" to public officials who served during Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's regime.
Across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), corruption persists, remaining stagnant on the official index score. Majority of it is faulted by "political corruption" that is strife across the MENA region.
The political systems in Arab states are controlled by ruling elites who abuse power for personal gain at the expense of millions of disadvantaged citizens
the report said.
The introduction of anti-corruption laws and regulations only adds on to the "lip service" than a much needed political and institutional "reform".
Anti-terrorism and cyber-crime laws have given countries such as Jordan and the United Arab Emirates the opportunity to "criminalise" free speech on social media networks. Bahrain has experienced a sharp "drop" in the index since last year. The government "escalated" its attacks against freedom of expression and freedom of association and assembly. Bahraini human rights activists face citizenship revocation and arbitrary travel bans.
In a stark difference, the UAE and Qatar scored higher in the index in comparison to previous years. Efficient "management of public finances", "procurement" and transparent access to "public services" has given a better score to the states. Despite this small progress, "these monarchies place severe restrictions on civil and public freedoms and supress any form of political dissent or criticism placed on the ruling families", the report said.
Worst performing countries include Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen based on ongoing wars and conflicts. The countries "suffer" from weak public institutions and instability. Corruption is made easier amid the violence the report stated.
The MENA region can only succeed is there is "political will" for change and reform, the report advised. "To break away from politically corrupt institutions, Arab governments must take long-term action to establish transparent and accountable institutions, prosecute wrongdoing, and allow for citizen engagement and participation. Civil society has a crucial role to play here."