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Uniting Against Corruption, a multi-stakeholder approach

By Sheikha Suhaila Fahad Al-Sabah
Managing Editor

International Anti-Corruption Day (IACD), marked annually on 9 December, seeks to raise awareness on the critical need to prevent corruption, promote transparency, and strengthen democratic institutions. Besides highlighting the challenges posed by corruption, the day also provides an opportunity to reflect on the crucial role of anti-corruption in promoting peace, security and development.

The 2023 IACD commemorates the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). The day, which is being celebrated this year under the tagline of ‘United Against Corruption’, draws focus on the fact that tackling corruption is the right and responsibility of everyone, and that collective action is needed to stamp out corruption from every walk of life.

The day underscores the importance of engaging multiple stakeholders, including governments, businesses and civil society, as well as empowering communities and individuals in the fight to end corruption, and ensure the sustainable development of nations, and the wellbeing of people everywhere. As the world commemorates this milestone day, we reflect on the pervasive influence of corruption on economic, political, and social development of nations, and on the well-being of people.

Corruption stymies economic, political and social development of nations and societies. Economic growth is hindered by corruption in development projects that enable bureaucratic hurdles which require bribes to overcome. Corruption also discourages local and foreign direct investment, makes the business environment less open and competitive, and prevents small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that form the backbone of most economies by raising the ‘start-up costs’ they need to operate successfully.

Corruption also corrodes the foundation of political life and democratic institutions by distorting electoral processes, perverting the rule of law and enabling systemic quagmires that prevent or discourage capable individuals from competing on an equal footing with better organized but less efficient parochial politicians. In addition, corruption has a pernicious impact on the social environment by encouraging and sustaining explicit and implicit forms of inequality, discrimination and human rights challenges.

Kuwait, which signed on to the UNCAC at its adoption in 2003 and ratified the convention in 2007, has struggled to combat corruption, which has been a major hurdle to development over the years. The insidious influence of corruption and its persistent power to corrode all aspects of development in Kuwait is reflected in the relatively poor ranking that the country has achieved in global corruption indices.

The 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), the annual barometer of corruption worldwide published by Transparency International, placed Kuwait in 77th position out of 180 countries, with a score of 42 out of a possible score of 100. The latest CPI on Kuwait marked a drop in both scoring and ranking, with the country falling by one score from the 43 it achieved a year earlier, and dropping four positions from the 73rd rank it occupied in 2021.

Kuwait’s scoring in 2022 was not only below the global average of 43, it was also lower than the average for the Middle East and North Africa region. Persistence of corruption in the country in 2022 also saw Kuwait scoring lower than its peers in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) bloc. Among GCC states, the United Arab Emirates with a score of 67 was the top scorer, followed by Qatar (58), Saudi Arabia (51), Bahrain (44), Oman (44) and Kuwait (42).

Kuwait’s relatively low ranking and scoring on the various matrices used to analyze and form the CPI have been attributed to several factors, including a lack of transparency and accountability, weak institutions, and a culture of impunity. The absence of effective monitoring and inability to hold those in power to account for their actions against the common good , has led to various forms of corruption being rampant in the country in the past.

A common form of corruption in Kuwait is bribery, with bribes in cash or kind being paid to public sector officials in order to obtain permits, licenses, win contracts, or to overcome bureaucratic hurdles. But bribery is not limited to the public sector, businesses in the private sector have also been known to entice government officials with lucrative monetary and other benefits to avoid regulatory scrutiny or to gain approval for shoddily constructed public projects. Firms have also been implicated in the illegal trade of selling visas to bring in workers for non-existent work projects.

Embezzlement of public funds is another form of corruption, the presence of which was brought to light in recent years with the discovery of billions of dinars being siphoned off from public institutions and from state purchases of defense ware. Other forms of corruption prevalent in the country include nepotism, cronyism and money laundering.

The lack of oversight and accountability allows public sector officials to practice nepotism by doling out jobs or promotions to relatives and friends irrespective of whether they are qualified for the job or not. Similarly, the practice of cronyism allows public sector officials to award contracts or favors to friends, political supporters or business associates, often at a cost to the state in the form of poor quality work output.

More than a lack of intention on the part of the government to fight corruption, or the absence of anti-corruption policies and entities to combat corruption, it has been the inability of the authorities to effectively implement enacted policies and laws that have led to the widespread diffusion of corruption in the country. Moreover, the entities mandated to monitor public sector probity are not equipped with the means and legal measures to effectively undertake their mandated responsibilities.

Critics point out that while petty corruption offenses are regularly punished, a fully independent mechanism to detect and prevent systemic corruption, and prosecute well-connected individuals is still lacking in the country. They also note that anti-corruption legislation may also be abused to target corruption critics and whistleblowers. In addition, the political instability that prevailed in the country until recently also delayed crucial reforms to economic and monetary governance.

Corruption has a number of negative consequences for Kuwait.

It discourages investment, hinders economic growth, and undermines the rule of law. Investors are reluctant to put money in a country where they are not sure that they will be treated fairly. It also leads to a decline in the quality of public services, as resources are diverted from essential services to the pockets of corrupt officials. Corruption also erodes public trust in the government and can lead to social unrest.

In order to address and root-out corruption in public life the government has been taking several comprehensive proactive measures, including increasing transparency and accountability in government institutions, reducing the concentration of power, and strengthening the rule of the law and its application equally to everyone. The Kuwait Anti-Corruption Authority (Nazaha) has also been provided with more resources and leeway in tackling public-sector corruption, including greater protection being afforded to corruption whistle-blowers.

Last week, the head of Kuwait Anti-Corruption Authority (Nazaha) Abdulaziz Al-Ibrahim announced that around 99.6 percent of public sector officials who come under the Authority’s financial disclosure regulations have submitted their documents, reflecting the country’s improved anti-corruption protocols. He added that Nazaha has succeeded in implementing and improving laws that would help Kuwait to better counter corruption, promote transparency and crack down on corruption. The world is today confronted by multiple challenges, including the climate crisis, conflicts, humanitarian emergencies, and human rights violations. Intertwined in most of these challenges is the pervasive influence of corruption that affects all countries. Corruption undermines nearly all aspects of a country’s development that it is impossible to contemplate a nation’s progress without eradicating corruption.

Most times the links between corruption and development may be apparent, but sometimes they could also be opaque. A case in point is the connection between corruption and climate change. Most people would find it difficult to envision any link between these seemingly unrelated phenomena, but a look at the roster of attendees at climate change gatherings provides a cue to this nexus.

The increasing presence of the fossil fuel industry representatives at the annual high profile climate gatherings — the Conference of Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) — organized with express aim of combating climate change by eliminating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, especially those arising from the burning of fossil fuels is in itself quite suspicious.

The fact that many of the recent COP gatherings have in their final communique avoided mentioning the role of fossil fuels in GHG emissions, and failed to articulate a time-bound plan to eliminate the use of fossil fuels, is incriminating evidence of the corrupting influence of the fossil fuel industry, and their increasing role in directing outcomes of climate conferences. An apt analogy would be a cabal of arsonists organizing a conference to fight forest fires.

The incongruous presence of fossil fuel industry representatives at climate gathering reached a new high at the ongoing 28th session of the Conference of Parties (COP28) currently underway in the United Arab Emirates. Aside from the farcicality of hosting the COP28 climate conference in a country that is also one of the largest producers and exports of oil, and the fact that the president of COP28 is also the CEO of one of the biggest oil companies in the world, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), the presence of over 2,450 individuals linked to fossil fuel producers at this year’s climate conference, have raised the ire of climate change activists.

Since the seminal Paris Agreement on Climate Change in 2015, anti-corruption activists, advocacy groups, the United Nations entities concerned with , development, human rights, and other stakeholders have continuously called to stop undue influence from polluters and oil rich countries in climate talks. A surge in climate corruption cases on a global level also threatens credibility and trust in COP talks and other climate policy frameworks and institutions.

Despite these reservations, the quadrupling of fossil fuel representatives since last year’s COP conference in Egypt when there were around 600 individuals linked to the fossil fuel industry, highlights the rising influence of the industry in determining the outcomes of global climate conferences. Continuing the production and use of fossil fuels so as to ensure short-term economic gains for a handful of fossil fuel producers, at the expense of the long-term sustainability of the planet and the welfare of all species on Earth, including fossil-fuel producers, can at best be termed sheer foolhardiness.

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