Somalia And The Corruption Tango – OpEd


Any unchecked authority or power—especially when involving monies—ultimately leads to corruption. That is why it is necessary to put in place mechanisms to monitor, audit, reward, and, when necessary, punish.All laws stemming from a moral or a legal code are based on a system of rewards and punishments.

By corruption I mean: Abuse of authority or position of trust in order to benefit self, family, friends, special interest groups and others willing to buy special privileges in cash or other more subtle payoffs, or by being complacent or tolerant to such conducts.

In recent months, the Somali Federal Government (SFG) had to swiftly sack its first Central Bank Governor when he was implicated on corruption in the (controversial) UN Monitoring Report on Somalia. The process was settled quietly behind closed doors. No investigation, no prosecution, and no guilt or innocence. More importantly, no lessons learned and no improved vetting process.

Immediately following the sacking, SFG appointed its Second Governor to the Central Bank. Within weeks after taking her position, the new Governor resigned; publicly alleging being pressured to sanction a national asset-recovery contract with potential monetary improprieties. What ensued was indirect a smear campaign and two concurrent narratives of corruption that, for all intent and purpose, have stained the credibility of both parties [Disclosure: Though not part of the government, one of my in-laws was named by some websites as a stakeholder in the case at hand]

Whether this latest allegation is real or artificial is immaterial. As a failed state (albeit one on its way to recovery) and one that has been occupying the lowest rank in the Transparency International Corruption Index for a number of years, SFG would have a hard time shaking this sort of controversy off. Which means friends may retreat, potential donor nations may become reluctant, elements within the international community may use it as a political card, and international banking institutions may hike the interest rate on future borrowings.

Swamps of Corruption

Contrary to the common belief that corruption is limited to certain political and socioeconomic environments, namely underdeveloped and developing countries, corruption is nearly ubiquitous global reality. It is a phenomenon found in democracies and dictatorships as well as monarchies and anarchies.

Like crime in general, corruption cannot be totally eradicated. It is a criminal and immoral phenomenon found even in countries that generally respect the rule of law and have all necessary institutions for effective system of checks and balances.

Nepotism/favoritism was so rampant in the U.S. that some historians consider American Civil War hero, President Ulysses S. Grant, as a poster child of corruption.

It wasn’t till late nineteenth century that US Congress passed the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, the federal law mandating that government jobs must be awarded based on merit. That and the federal anti-bribery laws did not prevent officials such as Illinois Governor, Rod Blagojevich, from trying to auction President Obama’s old Senate seat after winning in 2008.

If that seems like an isolated case, think of the Watergate Scandal, or the network of consultants, lobbyists, private contractors and government officials who provide privileged access to powerful offices and resources known as the Beltway Bandits whose iconic cash for services was highlighted by the Iraq war and their relentless lobbying to protect the crooks and criminals of the global banking system.

Moreover, it wasn’t that long ago when, across the pond in UK, the so-called Rotten Parliament scandal exposed an endemic of corruption across party lines that ultimately resulted in the prosecution of several members and former members of the House of Commons, and members of the House of Lords as well as a large number of resignations and sackings.

If these shenanigans and criminal activities could take place under the microscopes and lamp posts of law and order, imagine what NGOs and international community representatives in remote countries could do in enabling corrupt officials to get away with robberies and seduce others to tango with them.

Corruption is a two-way street. To focus on one side and not the other is nothing but a subtle effort to continue business as usual.

Steps Necessary to Prevent Corruption

Currently in Somalia, officials are neither constrained by clear and enforceable rules or policies nor is there an auditing apparatus that is in charge of vetting government contracts or have the legal oversight against illicit political and business deals or misappropriation of the meager revenues.

First and foremost, the federal government must institute policies that criminalize corruption.

Second, the judiciary system must be reformed and technical capacity must be improved. While robust functioning of all governmental institutions and policies of checks and balances are crucial to fighting corruption, the most crucial is the branch that enforces such policies. This vital institution must be in place even before any anti-corruption bill is passed by the parliament. Without an effective legal system, fighting corruption would remain a perpetual political pipedream.

Third, the government must create a genuine anti-corruption commission with litigation powers.Fourth, reinstitute the office of Asset control & Risk Assessment to control fraud and corruption and conduct necessary audits.

Fifth, Spesso politico (Italian for political expenditure) unspecified cash arbitrarily appropriated for top offices to use it at their respective discretions must be totally eliminated. This is a system inherited from the Italian colonial administration that would cash in key offices to bribe, and thus manipulate inter-clan politics to its favor. Although some would argue that such coffers are strictly used to appease vociferous clan leaders and turn away saboteurs, it mostly fuels zero-sum politicking and induces predictable temptations.

Sixth, improve salaries of the plethora of poorly paid public servants. This was one of the biggest factors that increased corruption and ultimately contributed to the destruction of the military government; likewise, it is one of the biggest factors that compel some desperate soldiers to sell their military goods to militants such as al-Shabaab for survival.

Seventh, mandatory asset declaration policy must be instituted. All key officials must declare their assets or financial net worth before assuming office. Such policy would bring an end to the questionable routine of officials leaving office as wealthy men.An ad hoc policy of that nature was once applied under former Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi (Farmajo), though no one has officially checked the net worth of each minister once that PM was sacked and his government collapsed.

Eighth, government must institute meritorious hiring policy to prevent the mother of all corruption- nepotism/favoritism.

Ninth, government must adopt the Transparency International Integrity Pact and require all key officials to commit to promote ethical conduct and good governance by signing that document.

Tenth, sign the United Nations Convention against Corruption. This convention would, among other things, enable Somalia not only to prosecute corrupted officially who embezzled monies outside the country, but an international cooperation on asset-recovery. (December 4th is the tenth anniversary of this convention.)

Eleventh, press freedom must be protected with enforceable policies that safeguard public scrutiny of elected and appointed officials.

Twelve, government must adopt a collective approach in combating corruption by mobilizing a coordinated effort between leaders from the religious, intellectual, entertainment and arts sectors to stigmatize and ostracize corrupt officials as a public enemy.

All forms of corruption are zero-sum freeloading and indeed parasitical; and some are existentially more threatening than others. Officials misappropriating or stealing national assets in wealthy countries are one level of lowliness and criminality, doing the same to mainly donated funds intended to assist a nation that was at the brink of self-annihilation and its mostly impoverished people is totally another

States that earn the reputation of being corrupt have one distinctive criterion in common: they all fail to meet their service and protection obligation toward their citizens. And that, needless to say, erodes public trust on leaders and institutions which then impede economic, political and social developments.

Therefore, the challenge awaiting the federal and all other local governments is to fight kleptocracy and the culture of impunity that sustained it.

Abukar Arman

Abukar Arman is the author of "Broken Camel Bells: Somalia Age of Terrorism," and is a foreign policy analyst and a former diplomat. On Twitter: @4DialogSK

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