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Tuesday 21 September 2021
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If we miss the next election, the fight against corruption will be lost forever, says Kamel Ayadi

According to Kamel Ayadi, the fight against corruption is not just a technical issue related to the mechanisms and regulations, but above all a question of moral values and commitment of the whole society and primarily the political elite and economic actors, in the sense of leading a fight to overcome this phenomenon.

Interview

How do you assess corruption in Tunisia?

It is always difficult to claim to know the true size of corruption in Tunisia or elsewhere, if we stick to scientific rigor, objectivity and rationality. But if we succumb to the sensational and the sweeping statements according to international rankings we risk falling, even, unintentionally, in manipulation.

Corruption is an insidious phenomenon, difficult to detect and therefore difficult to understand and measure. It is for this reason that all the reports and studies that have focused on the extent of this phenomenon do it through perception and are not based on empirical data. Perception can reproduce reality, especially when considered hindsight, but it also has a deceptive side.

With regard to Tunisia, I have a mixed view and my feeling is shared between pessimism and optimism. The fight against corruption is not only a question of mechanisms and regulation. It is primarily a question of moral values and a commitment on the part of the whole society, and in the first place the political elite and economic actors.

Mechanisms and legal rules are mere tools. The most important thing is the will of the whole society to end this scourge. But when analyzing the level of personal integrity and ethical culture that exists among the elite and the political elite in particular, among whom are recruited policy makers and decision makers, we can only worry about the future of the fight against corruption in Tunisia. Just analyze the panorama of behaviors and attitudes observed among political actors during the last three years, just observe the lack or absence of professional ethics among some officials, the lack of commitment among employees and the new culture of laxity and aberrant individualism to get to this sad evidence. There are always some areas of hope, especially with the involvement of civil society that is being built gradually, the emerging consciousness among the silent mass which one day will end its silence and media efforts.

Following a survey conducted by Transparency International on the Corruption Perception Index in 2013, Tunisia was ranked 77th in this index with a score of 41 points, which was also the same score in 2012. Do you think we are still far from danger?

Despite the loss of two points in the rankings compared to last year Tunisia remains better ranked in comparison to neighboring countries, Arab countries and even emerging countries. If Tunisia manages to improve his score over the next year or at least keeps this ranking, it will not be seen as a country where corruption is endemic.

I think we are at a crossroads and the future of the fight against corruption will be play out over the next three years. Either Tunisia will follow in the tracks of those countries that have experienced major socio-political changes resulting in the mastery of this scourge, or it will take the path of countries that experienced revolutions allowing access to democracy and freedom of expression, but that saw the phenomenon of corruption continually increase.

Personally, I do not expect much of what remains of this transition, even if ruling policymakers tend to multiply declarations and laws against corruption. The law does not work when enacted in an atmosphere marked with distrust and lack of confidence. It is the next transition that will be crucial. Much will depend on the elite that will rule and its commitment.

If we miss the next election, the fight against corruption will be lost forever. If corruption settles at high levels, it will be difficult to bring it down later, because it will turn into situations of shared annuities and in powerful cartels difficult to break.

Samir Annabi, President of the National Anti-Corruption Authority has recently emphasized the need to integrate materials on the dangers of corruption and how to fight against this scourge in education programs. What do you think?

I fully agree with this approach. Education is fundamental to eradicate this phenomenon. But education should not be directed only towards future generations. It should also target adults, employees, economic actors and managers at all levels. Today, strategies institutionalizing ethics in business management is a common practice. Ethics education is an essential component in the management of human resources. Business ethics has become a powerful tool for guiding the behavior of employees.

In your opinion, what would be the appropriate mechanisms to end this endemic problem while creating transparency in paperwork?

A policy to fight against corruption should be based on two fundamental pillars, in addition to the consecration of a number of principles. The first pillar is the dissemination of the culture of ethics and integrity through policies of formalization of ethical approaches in the management of companies and public institutions and agencies. The second pillar is that of compliance, i.e. compliance with rules and laws designed with the objective of combating this scourge. The law would be futile without ethics. We can not create a perfect world only by acting on the regulation lever.

Regarding principles, we may mention the principle of non-impunity, equality, the rule of law and solidarity. The practice must be consistent with the principles. I personally found that policymakers are taking action through the right and law levers to understand the issue of the fight against corruption. We can pass laws at will, to feel good, but we can not always change reality. Worse, this approach may discredit the law and make it inoperative. Besides, we hear much talk nowadays of provisions and measures to ensure the effectiveness of law.

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