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Watchdog urges Gulf to be more transparent

The head of an international anti-graft watchdog has urged the Gulf to improve the accountability of governments and their entities.

The head of an international anti-graft watchdog has urged the Gulf to improve the accountability of governments and their entities as part of efforts to further eradicate corruption and promote transparency. Greater openness was needed concerning public income and expenditure, said Cobus de Swardt, the managing director of Transparency International, a research group based in Berlin. However, Mr de Swardt also praised the region for its ongoing efforts against corruption, which helped propel the UAE, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain up the rankings in the organisation's recent global anti-corruption index.

"In order to sustain anti-corruption efforts and transparency you need high levels of public participation - in other words, the public holding public officials to account," he said in an interview. "This region doesn't have an extremely vibrant civic society. Systems of public accountability can be improved, and greater civic participation in affairs of the state and government is one way which would stand the region in good stead."

In the long term, institutional and private investors would be attracted to markets that had a stable and predictable environment and strict rules on investment, he said. Globally, despite a recognition of the importance of raising levels of integrity, transparency and accountability in the wake of the world financial crisis, international bodies such as the Group of 20 nations had so far not turned agreement on the issue into action, Mr de Swardt said.

"As never before, the current global economic and financial crisis has highlighted the importance of integrity, transparency and accountability both in the public and private sector," he said. The UAE has moved up five places since last year to become the 30th least-corrupt country of the 180 assessed by businessmen and analysts in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index. High-profile prosecutions of executives on corruption charges and improvements in financial tracking systems helped to make the UAE a better place to do business, the non-governmental organisation said in its annual global survey, published last month.

A judge in Dubai last month handed down the longest term in the emirate's corruption inquiry into Istithmar World, imprisoning a senior manager for five years after he was convicted of embezzling US$1.34 million (Dh4.9m). Dubai launched the extensive anti-corruption inquiry last year to fight fraud that was costing billions of dirhams, while Abu Dhabi in October announced an eight-year detective training course to fight against financial crime.

@Email:tarnold@thenational.ae

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