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The Anti-Corruption Authority Under the Microscope

It has been agreed that corruption in all its forms is the first problem and the deepest lesion eating into the Yemeni body politic and all civic and military sectors and authorities.  It has been logically stated that clamping down on corruption might be the first step toward getting rid of all problems, difficulties and crises that have been shaking up Yemen for decades.

Since Yemen has adopted a comprehensive financial and administrative reform program in 1995, consecutive governments have been talking about corruption and the ways to restrict it. Because of many factors, among which are internal and external pressures, Yemen decided to establish an independent authority that is responsible for combating corruption.

In its first steps, the Authority’s action has been vague and barely perceptible and to many observers, the Authority seemed not to know what to do and how to proceed.  Two years have passed since the Authority has been created and still there are no effective results. It has become a joke in the Yemeni street. It has received increasing sarcasm not only among the common people but also among the social and cultural elite.

Under public and official pressure, the media has played a major role in demanding to make the results of the Authority’s actions accessible for the public. The Authority’s leadership began to take tougher measures and news of that found its way to the media outlets in an attempt to influence the public opinion and to improve the public image of the Authority, and thence to persuade the public of the usefulness of the Authority as an independent body capable of calling a halt on corruption.

Ahmed Al-Aanisi, Chairman of the National Supreme Anti-Corruption Authority (NSACA), has defended his agency and said that it has referred 24 corruption cases and 130 employees, including high-ranking officials, to the Public Fund Prosecution for investigation in corruption issues.

He added that a lot of officials have been suspended and laid off from their positions due to corruption issues. The chairman affirmed that the Authority is keen to conduct inspection and investigation in corruption cases before making haphazard accusations against suspects, pointing out that the law forbids the Authority from disclosing names of corrupt people until they have been convicted and received a final judicial verdict.

Al-Aanisi said that the Authority has held ministers and high-ranking officials accountable for corruption issues.  He has criticized as irresponsible those criticisms directed against the Authority, saying that it had been attacked even before it was created. He called on the media to play its role in fighting corruption, describing the media as a fundamental partner of the Authority in combating corruption.

Al-Aanisi stressed that, despite the apparent consensus to the contrary, there is a firm political determination to combat corruption and official support for the Authority in all its actions in this regard.

Yasin Abdo Sa’eed, Member of the Authority and Chairman of the Media and Awareness Department, reiterated the importance of the media in infusing the values of honesty and supporting transparency.  He expressed his desire to establish a training workshop for journalists as the beginning for creative and fruitful cooperation between the Authority and media outlets.

A high-ranking official has revealed that the Authority has taken action in 12 cases that caused the State general budget to lose huge amounts of money, since the Authority has been established on July 7th, 2007 until June 1st, 2010.

The official said that among those cases, on which verdicts have been reached, illegal compensations and price differences were disbursed in a number of electricity tenders at 28 million dollars, and 35 locomotives were returned abroad containing used lubricants that are sold in the country as gas oil for the protection of cement factories not to use these lubricants for their economic, environmental and colossal health damage.

The source affirmed that the Anti-Corruption Authority has been able to nullify the decision by the General Investment Authority (GIA) to extend the tax exempt status of the two companies “SabaFon” and the former company “Spacetel.”  The total customs fees collected by the State on both companies’ imports and equipment since the suspension in in late 2008 until the end of 2009 were more than a billion riyals. As for the value of taxes and benefits, telecom company MTN has paid four billion riyals as a settlement for the disagreement with the government in this regard. The Authority is pursuing ongoing claims against the two companies.

The official also pointed to a project aimed at generating electric power using nuclear energy, for which, in coordination with government officials, 15 billion dollar contract has been currently suspended and is under investigation.

As for citizens’ accusations of the authority’s negligence, the Authority’s Vice-Chairman, Bilqis Abu Osba’, said the Authority has been working since its establishment with full capacity in two parallel tracks: the first line is the institutional, structural and organizational buildup of the Authority. The Authority has started from scratch to set up its institutional and structural bylaws. The second line is to implement anti-corruption laws in three dimensions represented in inspection and investigation, judicial follow-up and prevention of corruption,  and educating and publicizing about corruption. She expressed her belief that the Authority had made good progress in comparison with other Arab countries in this respect.

“At the present, we have referred more than 24 cases to the public prosecution,” she said. “Courts of law are now looking into a number of these cases. A large number of cases were tackled by the Authority, retrieving huge amounts of money and stopping procedures that were likely to deplete public funds and harm the common interest.”

She added that more than 103 people have been suspended from their jobs because they are facing charges of corruption and are now being investigated.The Authority has received 111 reports on corruption, 96 complaints, 39 press releases and 18 reports during 2010. In addition, the Authority was able to close case files related to tenders and bids by re-initiating them under more fair conditions.

“The Authority has a lot of issues in hand, which are still under inspection and scrutiny. What I would like to say is that investigation in corruption issues takes a long time because these issues depend on evidence and not on witnesses. Consequently, it takes us a while to acquire the evidence. The Authority has also worked on the prevention of corruption through spreading awareness, perpetual education and establishing a social culture that despises corruption and disrespects such behavior. In fact, the Authority managed to create a cultural and social movement against corruption. This is evident in the constant media tackling of corruption issues. Combating corruption has become a pivotal subject of a lot of activities and event conducted by civil society organizations.”

On the media role, she said that the media is required to encourage inquisitive media in order to assist the Authority in its action and back it up by thrashing out corruption issues and real and efficient topics for fighting corruption. “The Authority has received more than 89 reports and complaints through electronic sites and newspapers. However, only a few of those messages provide necessary information and documents on those reports. Therefore, we only deal with serious media that tackles corruption issues, which are supported by documents and evidence, because many of those stories eventually prove to be irrelevant to corruption after great efforts by the Authority.”

On the financial statements, Abu Osba’ said that the number of statements that must be submitted to the Authority are expected to reach 36 thousand, which must be submitted every two years. These statements are scrutinized and verified by the competent department. The Authority has an electronic program that can precisely detect those who are late in submitting their financial statements. The financial statements for the first phase amounted to 13010, for the second phase they amounted to 1242 statements until August 22, 2010.

She said that the Authority has referred 170 people to the public prosecution. Fifty-eight of these people did not submit their financial statements, including two ambassadors, vice-ministers and general managers in various government bodies.

Dr. Ali Al-Awash, Lawyer of the Public Funds, said that the total amount that has been retrieved to the general budget reached 2.6 billion riyals ($1.7 million) during last year 2009, which are resultant from embezzlement and corruption cases.

He added that these funds were linked to verdicts and judicial decisions made by the Yemeni prosecution and public funds courts during last year. He said that the measures will continue during the current year to retrieve the remaining amounts of money from corruption-related issues to the budget, indicating that at the same time those cases are still under investigation and are being looked into by courts pending verdicts. They are worth a total amount of 1, 592,490 Yemeni Riyals.

He said that 3457 cases were referred to the public funds prosecutions last year, out of which 1837 cases have received verdicts; while 1620 cases are still under investigation.  He pointed out that 1257 cases have been filed to courts, out of which 270 cases have received verdicts and 987 cases are still to be examined.