By Jumana Ghunaimat

The Corruption Triangle (1/3)

It is no secret that corruption is widespread in a variety of official institutions. Everybody knows it.

For years, people have been calling for the government to do something about the corruption that is costing our Treasury significant revenues every year.

Corruption in the public sector is not an isolated phenomenon. In other words, it is not restricted to one or two cases. It is a phenomenon that we know next to nothing about, except for the fact that one ranking official once stated than nearly two thirds of public sector employees are involved in corruption-related incidents.

While making sure to avoid making any unfair generalisations, whether it is less than two thirds or more, it doesn’t change the fact that many public servants have implicated themselves in at least one shady transaction in the span of their careers.

That’s not to say that all public servants are corrupt, because they aren’t. There are countless upstaning and respectable employees in the public sector. However, no matter how exaggerated the assessments made about the scale of the corruption in the public sector, it still is a big problem.

For the first time in maybe over a decade, we are seeing the government making moves to contain and combat the issue. These moves are evident in the decisions Finance Minister Omar Malhas made recently. It seems that he stirred up the hornets’ nest with these decisions he made.

As a result, many of those affected by the Minister’s decisions began swarming to sting Malhas. Just yesterday, news spread like wildfire claiming the Minister himself has been evading taxes!

The truth is that this simply isn’t true. I have personally looked into the Minister’s personal financial statements. Malhas has been a law-abiding taxpayer, to the dime, up until the year 2015, when he was appointed minister.

Naturally this is nothing if not expected. This is what happens when you poke the bear. The corrupt have no shame when it comes to smearing those they view as a legitimate threat to their corruption.

Similar tactics have been employed in different arenas. Resorting to character assassination, smearing, defamation and belittlement is not exactly a novelty in situations like this.

However, even though Malhas has in fact filed three cases against those spreading these rumours and turned over all the financial data needed to prove he hasn’t been evading taxes, Malhas’s reputation is not the only thing at stake here.

This goes beyond the Minister to the direction and intention he embodies.

Anyone who dares pry open this “Pandora’s Box” will face massive resistance on many frontiers, in an attempt to deter him, and others in the future, from maintain the current course of action.

The corrupt, the whole lot of them, have gotten used to having their way. And as a pre-emptive manoeuvre, they are hoping to discredit the person leading the effort to combat corruption.

They will wage war without end, if necessary, to maintain their “privileges” and influence in the public sector, which engages the citizenry in direct transactions every day. Of course, corruption in this sector costs the country a lot more than just money. It has driven the taxpayer’s trust in the official institution to the ground. Meanwhile, the corrupt stand to gain unfathomable fortunes from it all!

As far as sticking to the agendas and priorities of government, it seems Dr Hani Mulqi’s government is in fact committed to its promises to advance administrative reforms. A lot is entailed, both explicitly and implicitly, by the government’s declarations of intent. Chief among all that is expected to come is countering petty corruption, which has always been a problem hindering the public sector, ruining the citizen’s trust in the government.

Petty corruption is still a major problem. It is growing, and it will continue to do so unless it is tackled effectively.

Among others, the departments most affected by the phenomenon of petty corruption are the Income Tax, Land and Survey and Customs departments.

Not everyone working with these departments, or any other department is corrupt. We know that for a fact: there are many with their integrity intact. We need to be sure not to drive them away too, by treating them as suspects.

Knowing that, however, doesn’t change the fact the scale of corruption in these departments is no longer tolerable.

In fact, it only reaffirms the necessity of pushing for fundamental reforms in these departments, and that is only the beginning.

This article is an edited translation of the Arabic version, published by AlGhad.

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