Andrew Tabler: “The U.S. Can Help Tackle Syrian Corruption”

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

By Andrew J. Tabler (Published by The Daily Star)

Today Syria is held out as Iran's "Airstrip One" in the Arab world – an Orwellian island Tehran uses to project its power to Israel's borders and the shores of the Mediterranean. Indeed, Iranian-Syrian relations seem closer than ever – including a newly signed military cooperation agreement. Ties between Damascus and Tehran have deepened over the last two years in the face of US and Western isolation, turning their support for Hizbullah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad into an "axis of resistance" against Israel and the United States.

But the recent announcement of indirect talks between Israel and Syria was but the latest sign that Damascus' ties with Tehran – like its ties with all countries – remain ambiguous. A critical way to roll back Iranian influence in Damascus and make a possible Syria-Israel deal worth the paper it's printed on is to recalibrate American policy to address the heart of the Assad regime's economic problems: corruption.

Signs emanating from the Iranian-Syrian alliance this year have been increasingly bizarre – especially when Western and Arab isolation of Syria intensified over Damascus' reticence to help end the presidential gridlock in Lebanon. On February 12, the senior Hizbullah operative Imad Mughniyeh was assassinated in Damascus – a mere stone's throw away from the headquarters of Syria's security services in a country that often claims to be the Arab world's safest. Surprisingly, Damascus branded as "baseless" Tehran's announcement a few days later of a joint Iranian-Syrian investigation, despite Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki's visit to Damascus the day after the murder. Then a high-profile Iranian project to replace Damascus' aging public bus fleet with Iranian vehicles was mysteriously cancelled and awarded to a Chinese company.

Today, two high-profile Iranian-Syrian joint ventures to assemble automobiles in Syria – the first in the country's history – are barely scraping by due to Syrian government foot dragging on promises to cut tariffs on the plants' imported components. This is particularly odd as the Syrian state owns a 35 percent stake in one of the projects. Even more ambiguous are statistics recently released by Syria's State Investment office which put direct Iranian investment in Syria at $544 million, a mere 8 percent of Arab investment in Syria – a far cry from Iranian reports last year (also citing Syrian government statistics) that estimated Iranian investment at 66 percent of Arab investment in the country.

What can the US do to entice Damascus to keep Tehran at arm's length? Smarten-up its Syria policy. For 40 years, US policy in Syria has focused almost exclusively on Syria's behavior in the region and ignored the regime's looming economic problems. The Assad regime's historic lifeline – oil production – is rapidly running dry. Damascus announced last year it had become a net importer of oil – four years earlier than analysts predicted. In May, the state was forced to slash oil product subsidies, which will make up the lion's share of Syria's estimated 2008 record budget deficit of $3.77 billion.

The only way out of Damascus' looming fiscal crisis is to deepen market reforms and attract international investment. However, rampant corruption continues to hamstring the legal reforms that international businesses need to see before investing on a large scale. A sign that the regime is deeply worried about corruption as well came last February when the state-owned Al-Thawra newspaper published an unprecedented poll in which 99.6 percent of Syrians surveyed accused the state's courts, municipalities and police of corruption.

Iran, which suffers from many of the same problems as Syria, recently announced that it was increasing the value of its hitherto unknown "technical services" to Syria from $1 billion to $3.5 billion. Unfortunately for Syria's leadership, such assistance is a poisoned chalice that is only likely to satisfy the corruption that undermines the market reforms necessary to stave off the regime's eventual economic collapse.

Washington's recent seizure of the assets of senior Syrian officials in the US, as well as the decades-old European Union and United Nations assistance programs in Syria, have yet to entice the regime to clean up its stables. The US, which has no economic assistance programs in Syria, should prepare to step in in the event of a Syria-Israel deal as an outside and experienced player to help promote the rule of law in Syria. This would help Syria attract much-needed foreign investment, integrate it into the global economy, reduce unemployment and earn the US points with the Syrian people. To lay the groundwork and compete with Iran in Syria ahead of a possible Syria-Israel deal, the US should also recalibrate trade sanctions on Syria to help its companies that shun corruption and business with Iran to more easily do business with America.

Understanding an Arab country's economic woes and their impact on policy should be old hat for Washington. A key reason why Egyptian President Anwar Sadat attacked Israel in 1973 and then sued for peace five years later was that decades of war and domestic authoritarian rule had put Egypt on its back economically. The US understood this and manipulated the situation to its advantage when it brought about a breakthrough in Middle East peacemaking at Camp David in 1979. The US and its allies should plan to do the same with Syria in the years to come.

Andrew Tabler is consultant editor of Syria Today magazine and a former fellow of the Washington-based Institute of Current World Affairs. He is author of the recent Stanley Foundation report: "The High Road to Damascus: Engage Syria's Private Sector." He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.

Comments (100)

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51. Akbar Palace said:

does authoritarian rule tend to keep the level of interpersonal violent crime low?


Maybe. So what are you saying? That Syrian authoritarian/military rule has been envoked for 40 years because Syria was prone to a high “level of interpersonal violent crime”?

I find that difficult to believe.

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July 30th, 2008, 7:20 pm


52. Seeking the Truth said:


Don’t put words into my mouth please! What I’m hinting to is that I’d not be surprised if many Syrians cited the relative personal safety in their streets as a “fringe benefit” of the authoritarian rule.

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July 30th, 2008, 7:45 pm


53. Alex said:


Actually I wouldn’t be surprised if many potential rapists changed their minds for fearing that there is some secret police agent in that park at night.

You know, the impression in Syria is that there is secret police everywhere … makes it difficult to risk engaging in any crime.

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July 30th, 2008, 8:03 pm


54. Akbar Palace said:

Syrians cited the relative personal safety in their streets as a “fringe benefit” of the authoritarian rule.

Seeking, Alex,

I knew Syria wasn’t all that bad.

Do you think Israel or the US should invoke additional authoritarian rule to improve their personal safety as well? Or is authoritarian rule only good for other countries?

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July 30th, 2008, 8:05 pm


55. Alex said:


They can learn few things from Syria, but I suggest all three of them learn from this one instead:

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July 30th, 2008, 8:37 pm


56. Off The Wall said:

Tone has been one of the biggest hurtles in improving relationship between the US and many countries. Unfortunately, our politicians talk down, especially to Arabs and brown people in general.

Condie has been talking down to her staff (Mubarak, Abdallahs, etc.for years now) She has been giving instruction. However, on this one issue, I have mixed feelings, I am happy because these macho-men are forced to take their instructions from a woman and better yet, from an african american woman. But I am sad because of who and what condies represent 🙂

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July 30th, 2008, 8:39 pm


57. Off The Wall said:

Amen to that

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July 30th, 2008, 8:42 pm


58. trustquest said:

This guy in the picture is lucky he was born in India under British Rule, otherwise if he was born in Syria we would never hear of him.
I’m going to tell you a story from the time before I emigrated, a long time ago when I was in high school, in the 60s, even before the regime scale get that authoritarian. We went to the summer military camp as every student should in the eleven Grade. During the whole period we had one student from our class in school who has strong religious tendencies and outlook (he has beard). Everyday, they would call him on the microphone, enter the tent and get beaten for 1 hour from 3-5 guys, under my and others eyes. He was very stubborn never changed and accepted what they ask him to do and every time he falls, he stands up and refuses to change.
For some it is good because in the end it contained this wild population for others it does not worth it.

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July 30th, 2008, 9:34 pm


59. Off The Wall said:

Here is an Interesting Recent Article From the National (UAE)

The article is available @

Syrian stability under threat from high-level corruption
Phil Sands, Foreign Correspondent

Last Updated: July 17. 2008 10:52PM UAE / July 17. 2008 6:52PM GMT A culture of corruption, ranging from small scale police bribes to multimillion dollar tax frauds, continues to grip Syria, defying efforts to clean up the country and strangling the national economy.

Officials in Damascus said attempts to tackle business and governmental corruption have had little impact and that the problems remain endemic.

Mohammad Hussien, Syria’s minister of finance, released treasury figures showing tax evasion alone cost 200 billion Syrian pounds (Dh16bn) in the last financial year, equal to 12 per cent of national output and 40 per cent of the government’s entire budget.

The amount lost annually through unpaid taxes – already greater than the yearly national budget deficit – is expected to rise to 320bn Syrian pounds in the current financial year if current trends continue.

Although widespread low-level corruption, including small scale bribery and nepotism, is a significant issue, Syrian analysts said the real problem is caused by a handful of powerful individuals who use their power and influence to bypass laws and threaten others into adopting corrupt practices.

“The sums of money absorbed by corruption in Syria are very big,” said Elhossein Mohammed, dean of Damascus University’s faculty of law and a member of the ruling Baath Party. “Syria is no different from most countries, in that a small number of people hold a majority of financial power. This small minority is responsible for 80 per cent of corruption.

“The fight against corruption must start at the top of the chain and that means aiming at the big people. They have power, they have money, they often have strong international connections. You have to aim at the head of the snake, not the tail.”

Mr Mohammed said new legislation, as well as administrative and economic reforms, would be essential if progress is to be made. “New laws that are properly enforced would deal with 30 per cent of the problem very quickly,” he said. “We also need good, honest, loyal employees who are qualified for the position they hold, and these types of people should staff any anti-corruption bodies.”

Bashar Assad, the Syrian president, has spoken out publicly against corruption, highlighting the matter in his 2007 inauguration speech when he started a second seven-year term as leader. He called corruption an “impediment” to reform and admitted that advances in fighting it had been less than he had hoped for.

High-profile stands against corruption have been taken, including the March 2007 sacking of 50 officials from state-run firms and ministries. More recently top staff at one of the country’s leading medical institutions lost their jobs for the illegal reselling of cancer drugs.

And an MP and prominent businessman who was found to have paid taxes on a declared annual profit of five million pounds, when his real profit was 180m pounds, has been stripped of his parliamentary immunity. The authorities have vowed to take further action against him.

However, these successes are accompanied by setbacks. In 2005, a secret anti-corruption committee, answerable directly to the prime minister’s office, was scrapped because it was itself corrupt: when asked to draw up a list of dishonest government officials, it actually named judges and civil servants who had stood against corruption.

“I don’t see any sign that the situation in Syria with regard to corruption is getting any better,” said Abed Fadilah, a professor in Damascus University’s faculty of economics. “Corruption isn’t a matter of individuals, it’s an infrastructure and it’s something that expands day by day. When you want to stop corruption you cannot just deal with a corrupt person, you have to actually take apart the infrastructure of corruption.”

Prof Fadilah said there was a desire at the highest level of the Syrian administration to take a firm line against corruption, but that it was not a vision universally shared. “The campaign has stalled because some people inside the government do not want it to succeed. They want the corruption to continue.”

In a recent survey published by the state-owned Al Thawra newspaper, almost 100 per cent of Syrians questioned said they believed all of their official institutions to be inherently corrupt.

Transparency International, an anti-corruption watchdog, ranked Syria 138 out of 179 countries in its 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index. In the Middle East, only Iraq – which since the US-led invasion of 2003 has been hit by some of the biggest graft scandals in history – was considered more corrupt.

Such large scale corruption poses a threat to the state and could stir political unrest, Prof Fadilah said. “Corruption is dangerous because it has become a culture, a way of life for some people, and when that happens it can destroy a country.

“The most dangerous type of corruption is the institutionalised, professional corruption. It deforms the economy, it corrupts the moral climate.

“People accept corruption and that makes them corrupt. They’ll look at a corrupt man as being a successful man. Politically speaking, people will start to get frustrated with the situation.”

He urged the government to “work hard, with real will” to convince ordinary Syrians they were serious about addressing the issue.

Putting cash values on total corruption in Syria is not easy, but taking into account the billions of dollars stolen through tax evasion, the sums are enormous.

Qadri Jamil, a Syrian economics professor and anti-corruption campaigner, told the independent English-language magazine Syria Today that corruption could amount to as much as US$13bn (Dh47.7bn) annually – equivalent to 40 per cent of national output.

Salaries for government officials remain low and with rampant inflation there is a strong incentive for public servants to supplement pay packets with under-the-table money. Suhail al Hamdan, a Damascus-based economic consultant, said the answer was to increase wages.

He also insisted that tax evasion could be reduced if businessmen believed money handed to the government really was going to be spent on schools, hospitals and roads.

“One of the reasons for tax evasion is that the people who ought to pay the taxes are afraid that if they do actually give the money to government, it will then be stolen by corrupt figures in the government,” he said. “If they pay taxes, it will be stolen, so the logic is, why not steal it yourself?

Mr Hamdan said rife corruption was hamstringing the economy because hard, honest work was not rewarded. “There is no justice – there is no equivalence of opportunity, which means that people have no motive to work, no motive to try to improve,” he said. “It’s a very basic economic law, that if you want to get the best out of anything you need to give incentives.”

Corruption is also undermining efforts to increase external investment in Syria, a central part of government economic strategy in the face of falling revenues from oil sales.

“Foreign investors are put off from coming to Syria by the corruption,” Mr Hamdan said. “It’s not just foreign investors. Syrians with money to invest are taking it abroad because they are concerned about corruption.”

The United States has imposed sanctions on Syria after classifying it a “state sponsor of terrorism” for backing Hizbollah and Hamas in Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories, and for its role in opposing the American military presence in Iraq. Specific individuals accused of corruption, including Rami Makhulf, a powerful Syrian businessmen with strong connections to the authorities, have been targeted by the sanctions.

Such external pressures are working to undermine Syria’s faltering anti-corruption efforts, according to analysts here. With a feeling that it is under siege from powerful enemies, the government has concentrated efforts on facing these rather than internal matters, they said.

“Focus has shifted away from corruption because there are key figures who are corrupt and now is not the time to move key people out of their positions,” said one Syrian economic analyst on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the topic. “National unity is taking the priority. Because corruption happens in a network you also cannot just remove those key figures – you would risk creating a chaos because their whole network could crumble or they could use that network to make trouble.

“For these reasons, the fight against corruption must be waged carefully and taken one piece at a time.”

Suhail al Hamdan, a Syrian economic consultant, said the war against corruption must be fought and won.

“It will be positive in many ways,” he said. “People will start to believe there is some equality and that by working hard they will have a fair opportunity to succeed. That will be a huge benefit to the economy and if people believe they have a fair chance, that will make them believe in the future, for themselves and their country.”

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July 30th, 2008, 11:40 pm


60. EHSANI2 said:


This fine article illustrates the cancerous corruption at all levels.

Regrettably, nothing will be done about it outside empty promises.

I love that line where national unity is more important. With such a mindset, it is easy to see why I am as pessimistic as I sound.

Solving this problem is not rocket science.

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July 31st, 2008, 12:11 am


61. Zenobia said:

They need a task force.

i agree with Ehsani, that this i not rocket science at all. As I said above, the problem is not that people don’t know what has to be done, but there is not the will.
Finding the will to build something different is very difficult. There must first arise a huge collective desire and decision before even one step is taken. I disagree with the gentleman quoted in the National article, who said you have to take things one step at a time. This will not work really because as long as some people see that other people are not playing fairly, they will refuse to become the first to fly straight. It has to be a comprehensive crackdown across many sectors simultaneously with the backing and conviction of a large number of committed people to enforce new standards of conduct.

This would entail a very strategic plan that is also perfectly timed and coordinated, not a piecemeal transition.

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July 31st, 2008, 12:46 am


62. Akbar Palace said:

They can learn few things from Syria, but I suggest all three of them learn from this one instead

Alex –

Or this one:

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July 31st, 2008, 12:48 am


63. Zenobia said:

you’re right. we should learn from Ted Kennedy and Carter.

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July 31st, 2008, 1:28 am


64. Ford Prefect said:

And, of course, AP forgot to remind us to to learn from Dickless Cheney’s Halliburton.

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July 31st, 2008, 1:36 am


65. trustquest said:

I have one issue with the article, it stated that the president in his inauguration admited that corruption is epidemic and has spoken out loud against corruption, which true. But few months later in one of his speeches he declared that there is no more corruption in high level. Which most people know it is not true.
Mr. Dalilah in prison because he was the first one to point to corruption in high levels and he gave some figures at the time (100 Billions Dollars) makes Mugabe an angel comparing with the Monarch in Syria. The real problem is not in corruption itself, it is in the amount of figures which make your brain fly. You would ask why they are accumulating these huge amounts of money, billions, and what they are planning to do with it, what is their next step. Here, I become clueless from finding an answer. The influences of these people will plaque the country for ever and corruption is going no where.

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July 31st, 2008, 1:42 am


66. Off The Wall said:


I am trying to do “Literature Review” before even thinking of writing any of my own thoughts on the subject. As I said, I have been away for long long time, and i understand that things have changed a lot an gotten worst exponentially.

One problem that we all face is the lack of actual quantitative data. Most of the data is anecdotal (doesn’t mean they are wrong of false), it just means that they lack quantitative integrity. For example, I am not aware of any survey asking participants to identify how much money they spend to “facilitate” their access to “basic” services. These numbers will be crucial because in addition to the anecdotal data, which can be used to construct case-study anatomy, the general, anonymous, data will can be used to attribute symptoms to their causes.

Someone once said “you’ll know pornography when you see it”. I ask, for those living in Syria, would they really know what is corruption and what is not anymore. This is also one of the major difficulties in combating corruption. The problem is so entrenched to a point that the boundaries between what is legitimate and what is corrupt are rather fuzzy. This is where I see expats playing an instrumental role. We live in societies where corruption, in the sense we are talking about, is minimal to negligible. This allowed us to reestablish sensitivity to corruption and will allows us to assist in the “retraining” of our country folks. Take for example the simple “wasta”. To many it has become part and parcel of daily life. Even decades ago, “wasta” was becoming morally “ambiguous”

This is a giant task, it will not be solved by an “American occupation” for we see that such has done in Iraq. It will not be solved by good intentions, no matter how high. I do appreciate ZENOBIA’s comment. A campaign here and there will not do the job no matter how severe would the punishment be. It requires the re-instilment of a sense of national ownership and pride as well as methodical, tireless campaign, and a lot of sacrifices. It will require strong “whistle blower” protection laws. It will also require judicial vigilance so that corruption fighting campaigns do not turn in revenge and do not end replacing one corrupt manager, by another. It will also require punishing both sides in any bribary case unless the victim informs and collaborates with authorities on “catching the corrupt” officials with their hands in the cookie jar.

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July 31st, 2008, 2:23 am


67. Akbar Palace said:

And, of course, AP forgot to remind us to to learn from Dickless Cheney’s Halliburton.

Ford Prefect,

Hey what about Chinless Assad’s company: Syria, Inc.

Hey, I bet that’s orders of magnitude more profitable.;)

BTW Ford Prefect, do you participate on the popular LGF website? Apparently there’s a participant there with the same name as you:


What’s so great about Ted Kennedy?

What economic downturn?:

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July 31st, 2008, 2:27 am


68. norman said:

I am very happy with the criticism that is made by Syrian themselves

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July 31st, 2008, 2:32 am


69. Off The Wall said:

You are absolutely right. A while a go I talked about civil society, I got jumped at. In fact, it was pleasently surprising to read the words “anti corruption campaigner”. Also talking about tax evasion is an important part of it. How can one solve the problem of government employee salaries with less 50% of actual tax liabilities are being collected. This shows that it is not only the government, but private corruption is as bad as the government’s.

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July 31st, 2008, 2:49 am


70. EHSANI2 said:

Tax evasion alone costs the Government US$ 4.35 Billion.

1- Triple the salary of all judges.
2- Triple the salary of all law enforcement officers and civil servants.

By my estimation that would add $1.4 Billion to the budget. Not a single Government employee will receive less than $1000 per month.

A presidential decree will follow:

Any Government official that is caught accepting a bribe or helping citizens avoid their tax liability will incur a 10-year prison sentence. The Government will offer a hotline where citizens can call to identify corrupt Government officials. The Presidential decree gives the tax collection agency the authority to conduct random audits of any Syrian citizen without exception. Those caught with tax avoidance also face a prison term and have to pay triple their original liability.

The tax collection agency ought to be given a massive budget of $600 million to recruit and upgrade its technology and audit capability. With a total cost of $2 Billion, the project is still $2.3 Billion in the black.

In thew words of one of my industrialist friends:

“I don’t remember the last time I paid a Dollar in taxes”

Ford Prefect,

Welcome Back Habibi.

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July 31st, 2008, 3:16 am


71. Majhool said:


Great plan. Do you think the government is welling to engage in creative solutions? doesn’t the regime rely on corruption to attain loyalty?

Also, when you raise salaries that will drive many urban Syrians to compete for jobs in the public sector, would the countryside people who currently occupy most jobs be happy with the new competition?
Also, since you have an estimate on tax evasion. Do you have an estimate for money stolen from customs at the main sea and even land ports? I still remember vividly how once at a social function the GM of one of the two ports was negotiating commission with top businessmen all out in public.

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July 31st, 2008, 3:29 am


72. norman said:

The bribes in the government section can be corrected with raising the salaries of the employees , have less employees by letting the old ones to retire , having fees for government papers so the government can collect enough money to pay the employees and have a phone number to call and report government employees who ask or accept bribes and prosecute the people who are offering bribes and the ones who are accepting them , few publicised prosecutions can teach the rest a good listen ,

the new tax law should make it easier to pay taxes , the government can use estimated taxes every three month certified by a public accountant as a way to collect taxes as with their name on the line accountants will be encouraging the taxpayers to pay their fair share and will make the accountant busy so they can pay more taxes.

high level government corruption can be decreased by having all bids close bids opened in a committee and announced in the official news paper so the decision can be challenged.

I believe that in India they implemented VAT because people were not paying their taxes , Syria can do that too.

Lastly I do not think that there are bribes in the private sector.

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July 31st, 2008, 3:32 am


73. Shai said:


Be careful, you’re heading into AIG-territory. You’re laying these smart-ass mines (“If security inside Syria is so great, why do they need military rule?…”), and then you explode them yourself (“Do you think Israel or US should invoke additional authoritarian rule?…”)

Someone might mistakenly think you’re trying to piss people off… 😉

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July 31st, 2008, 3:42 am


74. Majhool said:


Here is the speach (by the way he almost missed all his promisses so far)

. والحديث عن التطوير الادارى.. يقودنا الى الحديث عن الفساد.. الذى يعتبر محط اهتمام الناس فى بلدنا.. لتأثيره المباشر وغير المباشر على الحياة الاجتماعية.. ولتحوله الى معو ق للاصلاح. وعلى الرغم مما يثار عن حجمه وأبعاده.. وعلى تباين الاراء فى هذا الشأن.. وعلى الرغم من الجهود المبذولة للحد منه ومكافحته.. فاننا مازلنا نحتاج الى اليات ناجعة لمكافحة الفساد. فالمحاسبة هى الية مهمة.. لكنها ليست كافية.. لذلك فان التطوير الادارى.. وتوسيع استخدام التقنيات الحديثة.. هى اليات مكملة. أيضا فى السنوات السبع الماضية تحدثنا كثيرا عن الفساد.. وكان هناك الكثير من المقترحات. ولكن أضع النقاشات فى ثلاثة أصناف.. الاول وهو حقيقى فى مكافحة الفساد.. لا شك بأن الفساد وعلى المستويات العليا فى الدولة.. ان لم نقل بأنه غير موجود.. فنقول بأنه كوفح بشكل مرض تماما على المستوى الاعلى.. وأعتقد بأن ادراك هذه الحالة موجود بين المواطنين. هناك حالة أخرى هى حالة.. لنقل بأنها وهمية ولا تحدد تماما أين هو حجم الفساد.. حيث أنه خلال السنوات السبع الماضية كان هناك المزيد من الحرية بالنسبة للنقد والتعبير.. ودخل الاعلام فى هذا الموضوع فأصبح الحديث فى الاعلام أكثر.. وهذا يعطى حجما أكبر لنفس

أما النقطة الثالثة.. وهى المكان الذى توسع فيه الفساد فعلا.. فهو الاقتصاد الذى توسع. عندما يتوسع الاقتصاد وتتوسع المصالح وتتوسع حركة الاموال ويتوسع الاحتكاك بين الدولة والمال من دون ايجاد اليات قوية لمكافحة الفساد.. فهنا يتوسع الفساد.. وهنا فعليا يتوسع الفساد. وهذا شىء اجبارى ان لم نقم بتطوير اليات لمكافحة الفساد. حسنا.. كما قلت قبل قليل.. العقوبة ضرورية.. لكن العقوبة هى حل موءقت ولن يوءدى للنتائج التى نتوخاها.. لسبب بسيط.. لان أغلب الحالات لا يوجد ضدها دليل.. ولقد قمنا بتحويل العديد من الحالات والقضايا الى القضاء وتابعناها.. لكن لم يثبت وجود فساد بالرغم من قناعة الكثيرين بأن هناك فسادا. فاذا هذه حالة المحاسبة لا تكفى لوحدها بالرغم من ضرورتها . وفى الوقت ذاته الفساد يطور نفسه.. الفساد ذكى وعادة يطور نفسه بشكل أسرع من تطور اليات الدولة.. حتى لو كانت الدولة تطور بسرعة. فاذا ما هو الحل الفعلى… الحل الفعلى هو كما قلنا بالادارة. فى الادارة.. ان كان لدينا ادارة جادة فعلا.. وكان هناك أتمتة.. وهناك اليات للاختيار.. وهناك اليات للتقييم والاختيار فلا يكفى أن نختار شخصا لانه جيد فقط.. وبعد فترة نكتشف أنه فاسد أو أنه يتحول الى انسان فاسد.

فالتقييم أهم من الاختيار. كل هذه الاليات ان توفرت ستعطى النتيجة التى تريدها.. وحينها حتى لو دخل شخص فاسد جديد الى الدولة فانه لن يكون قادرا على الفساد وعلى افساد الاخرين. لذلك الادارة هامة جدا.. وما نقوم به ببعض الحالات التى نكافح فيها الفساد والمعاقبة هى حالات موءقتة لم تعط النتائج. بنفس الوقت علينا أن نسال سوءالا لا نساله عادة.. هذا الشخص اذا كان فاسدا.. هل يعنى أنه تربى فى منزله أم لا… التربية هى جزء أساسى. الفساد قضية أخلاقية يجب أن نراها كمجتمع وليس فقط كدولة وكادارة وكسجن.. ربما يكون الاب والام غير فاسدين.. ولكن التربية غير صلبة.. لا يكفى أن نربى الانسان على بعض الاخلاق.. يكون فى البداية ملتزما بها وبعد فترة ينحرف. فاذا نحن نريد من كل أب وأم أن يربوا أولادهم تربية وطنية وتربية أخلاقية صلبة وبالتالى نرى.. وأنتم ترون.. هناك الكثير من الاشخاص يعيشون فى بيئة فاسدة ولكنهم شرفاء. هذا ما نريده. فاذا القضية قضية اجتماعية بنفس الوقت.. ولا يكفى أن ننتظر العمل من الدولة. طبعا هذا الطرح هو للمدى البعيد. لا أتحدث عن المعالجة.. لان المعالجة السريعة هى من مهام الدولة. فاذا التربية منزل وتربية

Basically he was broke down corruption into three:

1) High Level corruption which he argued was dealt with in a satisfactory way

2 Imaginary corruptions (You know people nagging and media)

3) Corruption due to expansion of the economy ( I guess he considers that a low level corruption( general Managers and their commissions on bribes made to lower rank employees in all public administration)

As for the mitigations

1) Better Administration
2) Better ethical upbringing of the people.

No mention for political reason or even poverty…

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July 31st, 2008, 3:54 am


75. EHSANI2 said:

I think that the speech ignores the falafel formula.

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July 31st, 2008, 4:00 am


76. Shai said:


Alex said I need at least 10 signatories from SC contributors before he puts a special Read-Arabic tutorial section for people like me… Will you be my first signatory? 😉 (I’m kidding, though I do wish I could read Arabic…)

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July 31st, 2008, 4:02 am


77. Majhool said:

Shai, I put out a summary just for you

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July 31st, 2008, 4:05 am


78. Ford Prefect said:

Cheers Ehasani! Just got back from Damascus and my observations are to follow soon.

Regarding corruption, I hear you and concur with your comments. However, it is important to add that it is not only hunger and poverty that is the culprit; it is also the sick minds that the Ba’ath had created over the years. It is the dependency on government subsidies and entitlement to power and influence that the Ba’ath fostered to encourage loyalty to an otherwise failed economic and political systems. Increase salaries for civil workers by three folds and they will be looking to skim the forth fold through bribes. Why? Because they can.

One critical factor in combating corruption and nepotism is to remove the overly restrictive government touch points in people’s daily lives. You don’t need to run to half-bored civil employee at Damascus University to get a transcript. You can hardly do anything in Syria today without the need to interface with one government employee or another.

If Assad is serious about combating corruption, he’d better take a hard look at what is causing corruption in the first place: archaic and communist-era government policies and practices. It is the overall inefficiencies of the system across the board. Assad should start by reinventing his government, streamline its processes (has anyone expat lately tried to get the new Syrian ID card?) while liberating the economy.

P.S. You no longer need to bribe custom officers at Damascus Airport. Most, if not all, sought-after import items are now freely available in Syria at comparable prices elsewhere. They now rarely open anyone’s suitcases. Bribes at Damascus airport have been reduced to almost zeros. Yet, officers serving there are somehow surviving.

AP, there are many FP’s and galaxy hitchhikers out there. But there is only one peace-loving Syrian American by the name of Ford Prefect. And I write exclusively on this blog.

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July 31st, 2008, 4:06 am


79. Ford Prefect said:

Shai, Shalom buddy. I continue to salute your love to life and peace.

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July 31st, 2008, 4:08 am


80. Shai said:

Ford Prefect,

I join Ehsani in personally and warmly welcoming you back! And I concur with your message to AP, there is definitely only ONE true Ford Prefect. Welcome back ya habibi!


You’re a good man. Shukran.

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July 31st, 2008, 4:11 am


81. Majhool said:

Ford Perfect,

Thank you for sharing your observations. Now that is something that need to be posted for real. Thank you

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July 31st, 2008, 4:12 am


82. Shai said:


I was in the US for two weeks with my family on holiday… But if you were here so close, why didn’t you drop in? You could have stayed at my place. Probably no more than 1.5 hours drive. 🙂 That’s all the distance between us – can you believe it?

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July 31st, 2008, 4:17 am


83. ausamaa said:

Ford Perfect

“Has any expat tried to get his new ID lately?”

I did about 10 days ago, and it took like 30 min. Took the Photos, went to Salhiya “Nufoos” stood in line for twenty minutes, the clerk asked me to get the Stamps from downstairs while waiting, my turn came, he completed the form from my old ID, attached the stamps and the 4 photos, gave me a slip and said keep this slip until the new one is ready in sixty days then you come and do fingure prints here and receive it here. When I said that I am an expat and I may leave the country soon, he said: OK, bring me now a copy of your passport showing the out of Syria residence page, and the ID would be ready in two or three days!!

Can’t really complain about this!!

My wife lost her Civil ID card in Kuwait a while ago, went for the replacement, and it took almost the same time and same requierments, but…after 30 minutes they give you a slip and tell you to come back after SIXTY days to pick it up. Kuwait has 3 million people and everything is automated, Syria has twenty million people and is not as automated as Kuwait!!

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July 31st, 2008, 5:26 am


84. Off the Wall said:


high level government corruption can be decreased by having all bids close bids opened in a committee and announced in the official news paper so the decision can be challenged.

Opening Bids must be conducted with all bidders present along with anyone interested from the public.

It would also be very helpful to have some key appointments, particularly to advisory boards (with no executive power) also reviewable by the public. Key appointments, in addition to those of the ministers must be subject to approval by the parliament after public hearing.

Every official above certain level must make a declaration of assets and net wealth and liabilities.

Open up all city council meetings to the public. Have public hearing before you authorize any new project. Make plans available prior to the project and allow citizens to voice their objections or support.

One little thing that can also help, in all aspect where government employees are interacting with citizen for routine matter, make sure that it is not done from behind a desk but from behind a counter. It does make a difference because it instill the notion that the civil servant is a servant, not a “powerful” figure. Her/his power only stemms from the simple fact that they implement the law.

In these “daily” issues, if a case requires supervisory judgment, it is better if the supervisor comes to the citizen at the counter, not the other way around. The case should be reviewed in the presence of the junior official.

Do not simply enshrine equal opportunity in the constitution, legislate it through laws.

Establish a strong freedom of information legislation.

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July 31st, 2008, 5:27 am


85. Alex said:

It seems all of you are already writing about corruption after all

No need for a special topic : )

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July 31st, 2008, 5:33 am


86. Off the Wall said:


Which would you think is more corruption resitent, direct payment of fees at the counter, or purchasing stamps?

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July 31st, 2008, 5:36 am


87. Off the Wall said:


This is good. isn’t it. I think we all recognize the disastrous impact of corruption on Syria. 🙂

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July 31st, 2008, 5:37 am


88. Off the Wall said:

Make the punishment for attempting to bribe as severe as that for accepting bribery.

And why not contract “semi-privatize” some services.

I hope some of the recommendations made here are heard in Syria

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July 31st, 2008, 5:41 am


89. Alex said:

OTW (and others),

Those recommendations can be heard louder if each one of you can organize and summarize his recommendations … then I can present them as a main post which gets more readership than the comments section.

Think about it. I suggest focusing on solutions and ideas instead of causes of corruption.

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July 31st, 2008, 6:30 am


90. Alex said:

Interesting… New minister for Expat affairs is SSNP!

أما وزير المغتربين الجديد، جوزيف سويد، فهو أمين سر المكتب السياسي للحزب السوري القومي الاجتماعي في سورية، وهو من مواليد دمشق 1958، حصل على إجازة في الحقوق جامعة دمشق سنة 1983، مارس عمله في المحاماة وكان عضوا في مجلس الشعب في الدور التشريعي 2003 وعضو لجنتي الشؤون الخارجية والدستورية، قبل تعيينه وزيرا لشؤون الدولة ومن ثم وزيرا للمغتربين.

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July 31st, 2008, 7:26 am


91. Zenobia said:

Be careful, you’re heading into AIG-territory. You’re laying these smart-ass mines (”If security inside Syria is so great, why do they need military rule?…”), and then you explode them yourself (”Do you think Israel or US should invoke additional authoritarian rule?…”)

Someone might mistakenly think you’re trying to piss people off…

lol. that is the exact right characterization of aig.

yes,AP… hold on there boy….

is chappaquiddick the only thing you know about Ted Kennedy? not the fourty years of public service since then? poor you.

I very much agree with FP’s report, but I have also heard that the ID process is now much improved. Went from about six months to at most two weeks to obtain.
In general though, as i opined above, nothing less than total overhaul of these bad systems is going to make a major difference.

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July 31st, 2008, 7:41 am


92. Akbar Palace said:


As a conservative, I’ve never been happy with Ted Kennedy’s voting record. But the Chappaquiddick issue is enough reason for me to “dislike” this person.


I think my question (”If security inside Syria is so great, why do they need military rule?…”) was an excellent question. I would like an answer if it isn’t too much trouble.

Seeking the Truth said he would “not be surprised if many Syrians cited the relative personal safety in their streets as a “fringe benefit” of the authoritarian rule.”

Personal safety sounds good to me…what do you think?

From our favorite ME news source: Ha’Aretz

(Don’t get too upset, OK?)

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July 31st, 2008, 11:01 am


93. Ford Prefect said:

My experience in getting the ID was entirely different, but nevertheless, I don’t want to get into generalizing personal observations. The point I was trying to make is the corruption can be combated by easing and streamlining the touch points between the government and its citizens.

It is clear that while Syria is modernizing today, it is still suffering from backward processes left over from the Ottoman era. These processes are frustrating and a direct cause for corruption.

Governments just don’t combat corruption by throwing people in jail, they also embark on a program of genuine modernization of failed policies and procedures. Fostering a sense of civic duty, citizenship, and respect for the law and its institutions is also as important.

Thanks for the thoughts, Ausamaa.

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July 31st, 2008, 11:30 am


94. norman said:

My experience with the ID card was awful , I could not get one in Hama without waiting few days , that was in 2003 , things might have changed .

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July 31st, 2008, 11:43 am


95. Qifa Nabki said:

I don’t think any of you realize the implications of trying to eliminate corruption. There will be a very big baby thrown out with the bathwater if you are not careful, pursuing these draconian measures too earnestly.

I’m speaking, of course, about that most prized of resources, something that simply cannot be replaced once it is depleted or eradicated, namely: Levantine bureaucratic charm.

How quickly we forget that this is one of our greatest strengths, our signature quality, the perennial draw of cold-blooded foreigners to our lazy, leisurely shores. Where would we be without those archetypal figures: the heavy-lidded immigration officer with a half-burnt Marlboro hanging out of his mouth; the shifty-eyed tour guide who so reliably brings tourists to the same overpriced artisanal shop owned by his wife’s second cousin; the electrician who accidentally shuts down your power until you remember that you owe him an extra 200 lira… These fellows are cultural treasures, and you are threatening to banish them to oblivion!

A single cautionary tale should be enough to yank you out of this drunken reverie. When Jamil al-Sayyid took over as directory-general of Lebanon’s Sureté Générale (General Security Directorate), he callously embarked upon a quest to rid the building of the legions of simsars, those crafty grizzled ‘agents’ hanging around in the parking lots sipping miniscule cups of black coffee, and who would — for a modest fee and several days ‘labor’ — work their magic and grease the wheels of administrative machinery to procure whatever it was you needed: a birth certificate for your newborn, a visa extension, a new identity card, etc.

Lo and behold, al-Sayyid was successful, and Lebanon has never recovered. Today, filing a change of personal status requires a joyless 48 hours, instead of the far more civilized and insouciant 10 days. To walk into the Sureté Générale building is to step into a Huxleyan nightmare, an artificial and sterile world of lifeless efficiency, where uniformed officers glare at you if you dare to attempt to surreptitiously slip them a few bucks by way of thanks.

Join me, friends, in resisting this scourge! Let us embrace our Levantine bureaucratic charm! Once it is gone, there will be little to distinguish us from the barbarians.

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July 31st, 2008, 2:38 pm


96. Off the Wall said:

Nice piece. 🙂

However, I must say that we must strongly distinguish between bureaucracy and civil service.

Now as we talk about draconian measures. One of the biggest problems in most corruption fighting measures, to date, has been that they relied mostly on throwing people in jail. But that is not good if done alone because it transfers the campaign into a campaign against corrupt officials not against corruption.

In every university i worked at, there is a continuous efforts by personnel office to train and retrain the staff and faculty on ethics. Every 6 to 8 month, we receive an email saying that course so and so is now available on line and it is part of your job to take it and you have x number of days to do so. Each course takes less than 90 minutes to complete and it is a series of cases designed to help the participant in identifying both clear outright violations as well gray areas. Granted we complain, and some of us call these courses a waste of time, but in fact, they are very helpful in guiding us in interpreting university policies on academic integrity, grant money management, sexual harassment, and so on.

In his famous trilogy “foundation”, Isak Asimov presents a picture of bureaucracy that is very intriguing. Having read this book several times and knowing how Asimov takes his pictures from history and from daily life, i started observing the working of bureaucracy around me. I deal with various levels of it, from the daily mundane such as renewing a driver license, to those not in charge of making national policies but in charge of implementing them. One benefit i noticed is that bureaucracy plays an important role in shielding the society against the effects of radical changes in policy and in smoothing the transition from one status into a status required by a law that may have been, to start with outright stupid. Granted, they may also slow the implementation of a good law, but that is not so bad when one considers the “un-intended” consequences of passing good laws. They are not violating the law, or being corrupt, it is just the medium that instead of amplifying chaos, can dampen it a little, and that is extremely helpful when you have reactionary “knee jerk” laws.

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July 31st, 2008, 4:28 pm


97. Qifa Nabki said:


I agree with you. Bureaucracy is to love. : ) (Maybe that’s not what you mean, but I agree anyway).

Btw, I sent you an email a while back; did you receive it?

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July 31st, 2008, 4:42 pm


98. Off the Wall said:


I did not mean there is something to love. But I meant that civil well trained honest servants are an important part of democratic society and of development.

I do not chek that email as frequently as I should. Could you please send that again and I will check that email later today. With all the junk that gets into that box (alomst 90=%) sometimes i just go a delete rampage. So I am very sorry if i had not seen your email.

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July 31st, 2008, 4:56 pm


99. trustquest said:

On my part I think I have no obligation to the nation state we came from I have only obligation to extended family and the civil society there. Also, we should recognize that emigrants and expats participation in home state politic is for the reason to register demand and receive recognitions.

My experience with the ID in 2006 was the worst, at the same place Ausamaa mentioned. It took all my 15 days vacation, paid a visit to the Mokhabarat as part of the ID procedure, they asked me there to write my live story and of which party my 12 years old daughter is ( he wanted to know if she is a Democratic or Republican). Two days later, I had a visit from one of their men to double check on the information. And I did not get the ID card after all because it needed more time than my vacation.

FP, I do not want to make a quarrel with you, I love your writing, very balanced, but for God sake, please do not hang it on the Ottomans who left the country in 1920. Syria in the fifties was much better in the way they provide services. Their renewed friends the French improved on the Ottoman and established a lot of better services than currently available in civil and public services. Everything left from the French Era still stand as the best you can see around there. . It is like the country under a curse since 1967.
Do not forget the Exodus in magnitude after 1945 exceeded the exodus of the Ottomans period in relative to population, and especially after 1980s.

Thanks OTW for diverting the subject towards solutions which is of course doable. You have contributed tremendously to a shift inside this forum from considering the harsh criticism as inherently evil to considering the harsh criticism as valuable information which solutions should be built on. From following on the news from Syria, I was surprise how they could implement a traffic law and move Syria from America 1914 to America 2010. Of course kidding, because as long as the picture of the lion son cover the whole back views of the cars and blind the buildings, there is no real Law, but it is a good step. Although according to them they reduce the accidents by 49%, but they are fooling themselves because they still need to apply Ehsani, Falafel Formula (the heart of the problem).

Here is some add up to OTW suggestions and code of ethics he suggested, for changes necessary and associated with corruption:
-Of course the rule of the law should be applied as first step and the falafel formula is in effect.
-Second and foremost, get rid of the corruption icons.
-Problem of mismanagement and corruption should involve the civil society, the research private institutions specialist and universities to bring solutions, to each institution separately. It is not a one size fits all common to Baathis theory.
-Public participation is essential, this is should be a new direction in state discourse especially with the new existence of the internet, the public feed back structured to the return beneficial feed back. All public services should be competing in provide better services, and a system of recognition, prizes and punishment should be introduced.
-Start building a culture of respect to citizens, everywhere even in the Mokhabarat. Provide at least some seats and shade to people when they go for government services. Public servants should know that they are providing the service to their real boss the public and he should use Sir to address him. This is essential because it build the culture of respect.
-A change to a civilized public image is necessary, from the hegemony of one Man ( lion) leader to a more reachable Statesmen, all in public eyes ( meaning a reduction in totalitarianism)
– Introduce a new discourse for the State and Baathis, like: Towards peaceful livings. And abandon the discourse and the slogan which says: In Vietnam half the American died and we will finish the rest” attitude.
-Start building culture of high successful business and entrepreneurial values by allowing other than the “Man” picture to show in the public domain, and avoid persons like Rami M.
-Dismantles the culture of the president picture and allow gradual recognition to civil society.
-We should hear no more a statement from president like the one he said to the investors: If any one you have problem, come to me. This guy is still full of it, he issued more than 2000 decrees so far and he still wants to solve all the millions problems associated with each decree alone. Will he ever thinks that a dignified investor would not go to him unless he wants to give him a kickback (means to abandon the tribal thinking).
Finally, I know you can not remove corruption completely; after all it started in heaven.

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July 31st, 2008, 5:18 pm


100. Off the Wall said:

This is a rather interesting article. It appeared first in the 1998 Spring issue of UN Chronicle, and reproduced at;col1

Combating corruption – includes related article on anti-corruption strategy

Robert Klitgaard

Corruption is hardly a problem that is exclusive to the third world. True, in Venezuela a local dictionary of corruption has been published in two volumes. But it is also true that a French author, apparently independently, had the same idea for France. Probably every country could publish a similar volume. The fact that much third world corruption has important first world participation is also now a commonplace. The international nongovernmental organization Transparency International focuses on corruption in “international business transactions” and points out that there are first world givers of many third world bribes. In coming years, the World Trade Organization will find this issue a central one. The reminder that corruption exists everywhere, in private as well as public sectors, in rich countries and poor, is salutary, because it helps us avoid unhelpful and untrue stereotypes. But to contextualize the discussion in this way is not to end it.

In fact, noting that corruption is widespread may convey its own unhelpful subliminal messages. It may suggest, for example, that all forms and instances of corruption are equally harmful. Even more perniciously, it may lead lazy listeners to the conclusion that because corruption exists in every country, nothing can be done about it here. Saying “it’s not only our problem and it’s not all our fault” may sidetrack more useful discussions on how to do better. Consider the analogy of pollution or disease. Both exist everywhere on the planet. But the extent and patterns of the problems differ radically. Questions of how much and what kind are crucial, and so they are with regard to corruption. No one would conclude, for example, that because water pollution and AIDS exist in every country that nothing can or should be done to reduce them.

Corruption is a term of many meanings and, indeed, the beginning of wisdom on the issue is to subdivide and unpack the vast concept. At the broadest level, corruption is the misuse of office for unofficial ends. The catalogue of corrupt acts includes bribery, extortion, influence-peddling, nepotism, fraud, speed money, embezzlement and more. Although we tend to think of corruption as a sin of government, of course, it also exists in the private sector. Indeed, the private sector is involved in most government corruption.

Different varieties of corruption are not equally harmful. Corruption that undercuts the rules of the game – for example, the justice system or property rights or banking and credit – devastates economic and political development. Corruption that lets polluters foul rivers or hospitals extort patients can be environmentally and socially corrosive. In comparison, some speed money for public services and mild corruption in campaign financing are less damaging.

Of course the extent of corruption matters, too. Most systems can stand some corruption, and it’s possible that some truly awful systems can be improved by it. But when corruption becomes the norm, its effects are crippling.

So although every country has corruption, the varieties and extent differ. The killer is systematic corruption that destroys the rules of the game. It is one of the principal reasons why the most underdeveloped parts of our planet stay that way.

Can anything be done to reduce corruption? It is surprising how cynical many of us have become. We tend to short-circuit policy analysis with fatalistic refrains. And yet experience teaches us that broad social changes, as well as specific anti-corruption efforts, can make a big difference.

In the long run, more democracy and freer markets will help. The benefits of privatization in this domain are less clear. In general it may help to reduce state monopolies, but it is hardly an improvement to reinstall another monopoly that’s private. Metaphorically, corruption follows a formula: C = M + D – A. Corruption equals monopoly plus discretion minus accountability. Whether the activity is public, private or non-profit, whether you are in New York or Nairobi, you will tend to find corruption when someone has monopoly power over a good or service, has the discretion to decide whether or not you receive it and how much you get, and is not accountable.

Corruption is a crime of calculation, not passion. When the size of the bribe is large, the chance of being caught small, and the penalty if caught meager, many officials will succumb.

Combating corruption, therefore, begins with better systems. Monopolies must be reduced or carefully regulated. Official discretion must be clarified. Transparency must be enhanced. The probability of being caught must increase, and the penalties for corruption (for both givers and takers) must rise.

Each of these headings introduces a vast topic. But notice that none immediately refers to what most of us think of first when corruption is mentioned – new laws, more controls, a change in mentality, an ethical revolution. Laws and controls prove insufficient when systems are not there to implement them.

Despite the obvious sensitivity of devising and implementing strategies against systematic corruption, the United Nations can help – and indeed already does help – through aid for democratic reforms, more competitive economies, and the improvement of governance. But a more focused effort is needed: a systematic attack on systematic corruption. In coming years, donor nations will face ever greater pressures from their citizens not to aid countries perceived as corrupt. At the same time, the new wave of democratically-elected Governments in the developing world will be looking to the international community for help in controlling bribery, extortion, kickbacks, fraud and other forms of illicit behaviour. They are recognizing that neither free markets nor multi-party democracies will succeed if the institutions of the private and public sectors are riddled with systematic corruption. As few countries make progress in fighting corruption, others will follow. A campaign against systematic corruption needs more than better economic policies and better laws and more training, helpful though these may be. It requires a shock to a corrupt equilibrium.

However, experience in many countries shows that efforts to improve public servants’ ethics through codes of conduct and exhortation alone are non-starters. There are numerous examples of the most scandalous regimes making the loudest noises about public ethics. It is true that if we could transform ourselves into more ethical beings, corruption would be reduced. It is also true that Governments lack ready tools for accomplishing such transformations.

Therefore, combating corruption should focus on the reform of systems, combined with great political sensitivity and strategy. The design and implementation of the measures we have been discussing must obviously be closely tailored to each country’s special conditions. And yet, as we have seen, international cooperation can make a big difference. Sometimes providing specialized skills can help, such as organizing high-level seminars or the hiring of international investigators to track down ill-gotten deposits overseas. International cooperation can help develop or stiffen political resolve. International action usefully conveys the recognition that we are all involved in the problem of corruption and together we must find ways out.

Four Components of an Anti-Corruption Strategy

1 They begin “frying big fish”. In situations where corruption has grown extensive, people no longer believe even the finest promises from politicians and chief executives. When a culture of impunity exists, the only way to break it is for a number of major corrupt figures to be convicted and punished. Often there are many cases “pending” which have been set aside for reasons ranging from political sensitivity to corrupted justice officials. These cases should be pushed forward, or the Government should quickly attempt to identify a few big tax evaders, a few big bribe givers and a few high-level government bribe takers. Since a campaign against corruption can too often become a campaign against the opposition, the fist big fish that are fried should be from the party in power.

2 Successful campaigns involve the people. If only they are consulted, citizens are fertile sources of information about where corruption occurs. The mechanisms for consulting them include systematic client surveys, hot lines, call-in shows, educational programmes, and so forth. Business people and groups should participate in the protection of anonymity in diagnostic studies of how corrupt systems of procurement, contracting and the like actually work, where the emphasis is on systems and not on individuals. Self-policing by the private sector, especially when supported with international investigative capabilities (and credibility), can help businesses say “no” to requests for bribes.

3 Successful anti-corruption efforts fix corrupt systems. They use a formula such as C = M + D – A to carry out “vulnerability assessments” of public and private institutions. Like the best public health campaigns, they emphasize prevention.

Of course, reducing corruption is not all that we care about. We might spend so much money attacking corruption, or generate so much red tape and bureaucracy, that the costs and losses in efficiency would outweigh the benefits of lower corruption. This sort of economic perspective on corruption, combined with case studies of successful anti-corruption efforts, can stimulate tremendous creativity on the part of political leaders and top public managers. The method is often a workshop running 10 to 16 hours over one and a half to five days.

4 Finally, Governments wishing to stop corruption must improve incentives. In many countries, public sector wages have fallen so low that a family cannot survive on a typical official’s salary. Moreover, measures of success are often lacking in the public sector, so what officials earn is not linked with what they produce. It should be no surprise that under such conditions corruption flourishes.

Fortunately, around the world, experiments in both public and private sectors are emphasizing performance measurement and the overhauling of pay schemes. Fighting corruption is only one part of a broader effort that I call institutional adjustment, the systematic recasting of information and incentives in public and private institutions. Institutional adjustment is the next big item on the development agenda.

The worry is that corrupt officials on top are monopolists unwilling to sacrifice their rents, and international and local business people are locked in an “n”-person prisoners’ dilemma where the dominant strategy is to bribe. A corrupt equilibrium results, where rulers and top civil servants and some private companies gain, but society loses.

In both theory and practice, when a situation grows systematically corrupt, it is difficult even for leaders with political will to make their reforms believable. Citizens may have grown cynical; a culture of impunity may exist, and actors, both national and international, will not believe an announcement that the rules of the corrupt game have changed.

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August 1st, 2008, 8:50 am


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