INTERVIEW: Breaking the vicious circle of corruption

Ahmed Morsy , Friday 2 Aug 2019

Emmanuel Ollita Ondongo, president of the Association of African Anti-Corruption Authorities, speaks with Ahmed Morsy about efforts to crack down on graft

Emmanuel Ondongo, President of the AAACA (Photo courtesy of the AAACA)

“Poverty is the cradle of corruption and that is why it is endemic in Africa,” says Emmanuel Ollita Ondongo, president of the Association of African Anti-Corruption Authorities (AAACA).

According to the World Bank’s report “Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2018”, more than half of the world’s poorest live in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2015 more than 413 million people were living on less than $1.9 a day, more than all other regions combined. And their numbers are growing. If current trends continue, nine out of 10 of the world’s extreme poor will be in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“If we had been responsible and conscious citizens we wouldn’t have let social inequalities grow to such a scale that led societies to be basically divided into two groups, the immensely affluent and the extremely poor,” says Ondongo.

Corruption continues to do untold harm across Africa, hampering democracy, development and the ability to lift people out of poverty. The UN estimates Africa loses $148 billion to corruption each year.

According to the AAACA’s chairman, “eliminating corruption makes administration smooth and management transparent.”

“It replenishes the coffers of the state and makes it possible for the nation to make savings.” But Ondongo warns eliminating corruption is no easy task, and in Africa it is made more difficult because of many regimes’ involvement in graft.

Even so, says Ondongo, anti-corruption associations combined with a committed civil society, can contribute much towards establishing good governance.

Despite the commitment of the African Union to fighting corruption many African states linger at the bottom of the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). Africa ranked as the lowest region in CPI 2018. Seven of the bottom 10 countries were African.

It is a vicious circle, in which the causes of corruption — lack of political will, impunity, poor governance and social inequalities — constitute the main obstacles to eliminating the phenomenon.

Natural resources are looted and public assets squandered across the continent. Contacts are routinely fixed, tax fraud is rife and transnational organised crime and money laundering poses a very real threat to stability.

Petty and grand corruption, together with active and passive bribery, are the most common forms of corruption in Africa, says Ondongo.

Active bribery involves the promising of unfair advantages to a client; passive bribery soliciting such advantages. Grand corruption typically takes place at the highest levels of government and private business. It includes the people who make rules and policies and take executive decisions and involves enormous sums. Often called political corruption, it highlights the negative influence of money on political processes.

Small-scale, administrative or petty corruption occurs at the interface between public institutions and citizens.

One in four African citizens are forced to pay bribes to access basic services, including medicines and healthcare, according to the 2019 edition of Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer. The report notes that corruption doesn’t affect everyone equally. The poorest in society are twice as likely to pay bribes as the wealthiest.

On 11 July 2003 the African Union (AU) Summit endorsed the AU’s own Convention on Prevention and Combating Corruption. Yet more than a decade and a half on the 2019 Global Corruption Barometer of Africa found “half of the African citizens think corruption is getting worse in their countries and that their governments are doing a bad job of tackling it”.

The AU Convention on Prevention and Combating Corruption provides the basic legal framework for combating corruption in Africa. The convention came into force in 2006 after being ratified by 15 African states. President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi signed the convention on the sidelines of the Addis Ababa Summit in January 2017, and it was ratified by Egypt in July of the same year.

On Egypt’s role in fighting continental corruption in light of its chairmanship of the AU in 2019, Ondongo said: “Egypt is becoming the focal point of the fight against corruption in Africa. It has the oldest anti-corruption institution in Africa with over 55 years of experience.”

The Administrative Control Authority (ACA), Egypt’s corruption watchdog, was established in 1964. It has investigative powers, and is responsible for detecting and fighting graft.

In June, Al-Sisi inaugurated the first African Anti-Corruption Forum (AACF). Held in Sharm El-Sheikh, it was attended by more than 200 senior officials from 48 African countries and nine international organisations. The AACF’s main objective was to encourage African countries to adopt policies, programmes and work plans that could contribute to the eradication of corruption. 

“Egypt grants capacity-building grants to executives of African anti-corruption institutions,” Ondongo points out, and supports the efforts of African states to combat corruption by providing logistical aid.

Last year Egypt made 250 training grants available at the ACA’s National Anti-Corruption Academy to African cadres.

Less than a month ago, to mark African Anti-Corruption Day, Cairo announced a further 86 places for African trainees at the National Anti-Corruption Academy on courses offering instruction in investigative methodology, information collection, internal control and financial auditing.

 *A version of this article appears in print in the 31 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Breaking the vicious circle of corruption

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