x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Kuwait takes positive action on corruption

The country slips 20 places in the Corruption Perceptions Index over three years, now politicians and lawyers are to initiate laws to stop the rot.

Abdulrahman al Anjari speaks during a meeting of the Kuwait Transparency Society.
Abdulrahman al Anjari speaks during a meeting of the Kuwait Transparency Society.

KUWAIT CITY // Kuwait's ranking in an annual index of perceived corruption has fallen 20 places to 66th from 46th in 2006, making it the worst-placed country in the Gulf Co-operation Council.

In a bid to stem the country's fall in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, the Kuwait Transparency Society (KTS) has set about initiating laws and starting discussions on topics that were formerly taboo in the conservative state - such as the role of the royal family. "We focus on political reform, economic reform, administrative reform and implementation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption," said Salah al Shammari, one of KTS's seven board members. The society has initiated five laws that are part of the UN convention.

KTS, which was formed in 2005, hopes to become a fully accredited member this year of Transparency International, a Berlin-based umbrella organisation for societies that fight corruption worldwide. If it does, it will be the first GCC member and the organisation's fourth Arab chapter alongside ones in Morocco, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. At KTS's local headquarters on Monday night, Abdulrahman al Anjari, a member of parliament, discussed the group's achievements in the fight against corruption and the new laws the society is presenting to parliament. KTS initiates the legislative process by asking five MPs to back proposed laws and then lobbies on their behalf.

"Today, [KTS] submitted three bills. One is to protect against any form of economic crime and we also submitted the conflict of interest law and a third, the law of the public funds," Mr al Anjari said. Despite its advances, Kuwait still has "big problems" with corruption, he said. "Corruption exists all over the world, in all countries, since God created Adam and Eve - you cannot eliminate corruption in any country or society - no way, but you try to reduce it," he said. "It's like car accidents: they're everywhere."

Kuwait has slipped in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index because of gaps in the legislation and a weak rule of law, Mr al Anjari said, adding that this can only be changed by implementing laws from "the top". Mr al Shammari, the KTS board member, said Kuwait's low ranking in the index, is because its relatively free press - ranked as the freest in the Middle East by Reporters Without Borders - takes pleasure in highlighting the country's faults.

To promote dialogue between Kuwait's leaders, the KTS invited about 400 members of the government, parliament, judiciary, royal family and non-governmental organisations to a series of 10 private workshops that ended in March. Mr al Shammari said it "was the first time" the participants had come together in Kuwait, and they discussed the three branches of government, the relationships between the three and the royal family.

The workshop participants discussed creating a "family council" for the royal family, which would deal with what to do if the emir was in poor health and how to select the next emir and prepare him for his role. Mr al Shammari said the royal family was presented with the report from the meetings and "they appreciated" the ideas. He said tightening the country's legislation regarding financial disclosure would help end accusations of corruption in parliament. Politicians are currently involved in a scandal after an MP accused the prime minister, Sheikh Nasser Mohammed al Ahmed al Sabah, of issuing a 200,000 Kuwaiti dinar (Dh2.6 million) cheque to a former MP.

The prime minister's lawyer argues that the cheque was issued from his personal account. The society recommends that royal family members should not support MPs, and their benevolence should be regulated through institutions that are attached to them. Mr al Shammari said he was surprised with the divisions he noticed between the royal family members who turned up at the workshops, and said some of them had not even spoken to each other before.

"But for the first time, I think, we successfully made them sit in one room," he said. Kuwait's royals suffer from a dispute over the choice of their leader, which used to rotate between two branches of the family and now follows one line. The KTS also monitors elections, offers advice on selecting candidates and produces reports for Democracy Reporting International, an international organisation that tries to promote the development of democratic institutions worldwide.

KTS produces its own local version of the index§, with more "positive" language, known as the "Reform Perception Index". Each year the report ranks public sector institutions by performance, and the embarrassment caused by being near the bottom of the list can be enough to shame the managers into action, Mr al Shammari said. Several ministers have asked the society to arrange workshops after finishing near the bottom, he said.

jcalderwood@thenational.ae