In the past three months the changes in Egypt have been profound and startling. From the memorable images of hundreds of thousands of people thronging Tahrir Square to the arrests of former president Hosni Mubarak, his two sons and a number of former ministers and businessmen, events in Egypt show the power of a people’s revolution.
The arrests send a strong message to the Egyptian people: that no person who has damaged the state through acts of corruption will be granted impunity.
But the longer-term strategy for transferring power from the military to a democratic government and eliminating corruption in the political system is still unclear. This is the hard part; building a national integrity system in a state fractured by corruption and self-gain, and channelling the passions of the people into a creative and inclusive political dialogue.
In April Transparency International (TI) hosted two events in Egypt to discuss the steps required to strengthen the institutions that will deliver the demands of the people for free and fair government.
In 2009 TI carried out a study in Egypt of the key institutions, sectors and activities that contribute to integrity, transparency and accountability in a society. When they function properly, strong institutions helps combat corruption.
The 2009 study in Egypt found there were major areas of concern: widespread conflict of interest, political interference in the work of anti-corruption agencies, a lack of effective whistleblower protection, weak enforcement of laws and regulations, unchecked powers of the president, a lack of transparency and access to information and excessive limitations on civil society freedoms and the media.
The revolution has opened the doors for reform. From 17-18 April 2011 TI held a workshop in Egypt for government officials, academics, lawyers, the media and civil society to explore the reforms necessary to build a strong NIS. The recommendations following the workshop included:
- New laws that guarantee public officials are accountable, with no exceptions
- Strong freedom of information and whistleblower protection laws
- Ensure financial institutions exercise scrutiny of clients who are public officials
- Creation of a national body responsible for a comprehensive anti-corruption strategy
- The creation of the role of ombudsman to investigate citizens’ complaints.
Recovering stolen assets is a complex legal process but it is necessary to show that there is no impunity. It teaches a new generation that corruption will not be tolerated and is a building block on which to restore trust in government institutions.
On April 19 Transparency International hosted a panel discussion in Cairo bringing together international legal experts with Egyptian specialists to take stock of where Egypt is now in this process.
There has already been progress. Egypt requested asset freezes of former political leaders and businessmen in some jurisdictions and investigations are underway but complying with the requirements of jurisdictions for information exchange and eventual asset returns will be a long complicated business.
To accomplish this Egypt must dedicate sufficient resources to investigators and officials working on asset recovery, and take advantage of international measures already in place to request legal assistance and information exchange from other countries.
Egypt should also apply national anti money laundering legislation and investigate all the assets of the Mubarak family and other leading figures, including shell companies, shares and real estate. These investigations should be carried out in a transparent manner, so that the public see there is no impunity.
The aftermath of revolution is as hard to manage as the revolution itself. Strong institutions will help the new political class in Egypt achieve its goal of a fair society where the rule of law is strong and corruption no longer divides the people.
Working Paper: Recovering stolen assets: a problem of scope and dimension
Transparency International Bangkok Declaration on Stolen Assets
Corruption blew the lid off North Africa - Huguette Labelle, Chair of TI, CNN, 8 February 2011
Recuperating stolen assets: practical suggestions for Egypt - TI press release, 20 April 2011
Deborah Wise Unger
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