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September 23, 2017

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Citizens must be wary of corruption due to cash flood after Arab Spring

One of the by-products of regional uncertainty and the Arab Spring has been the steady rise in oil prices. And this added revenue has helped rapidly fill state coffers. Today, some of the GCC countries are putting that revenue to task in mega-billion projects across the land.

In Saudi Arabia alone, it is estimated that over US$77 billion have been allocated for major projects, which include the setting up of industrial cities and massive infrastructure development across the country. With that kind of money floating around, it has become very tempting to be seduced into the arms of corrupt business practices.

It should be noted that corruption has been one of the elements that served as a springboard to the Arab Spring. And we have not been immune to it. Perhaps, the most public example was brought up following the Jeddah rains in 2009, which caused the deaths of over 130 people by the resulting floods. It was determined that bribery played a major part with city officials granting housing permits illegally on city land not zoned as residential areas.

According to a published report at the time, the flood disaster exposed bribery and other corruption practices in government departments, which also suffered from the absence of clear policies. "What happened in Jeddah clearly illustrated the poor performance of government departments because of bribery and widespread corruption. These institutions are also suffering from the lack of clear policies and action plans besides bureaucratic complications in decision-making."

Three years on, and the trial of that tragic incident is still in progress with charges and counter-charges. Most of the defendants occupied key positions in the Jeddah Mayoralty but are currently under suspension pending the outcome of the trial. Many of the defendants who had previously admitted their complicity in taking bribes and looking the other way are today retracting their confessions, stating that such admissions were made under duress. Those following the case wonder if it would eventually be swept under dismissed or reduced charges as the web of deceit could entangle a wide spectrum of public sector officials.

They may be justified in their reasoning by the recent acquittal of six former soccer club officials accused of bribery and illegal appropriation of public land. According to published reports, the six defendants "retracted their earlier testimonies alleging that they were extracted under duress, which the board's representative denied. After the hearing, the court took a 30-minute recess for consultation with the panel members. They were fined 10,000 Saudi riyals each. All six defendants expressed their satisfaction with the verdict while the prosecution said it will contest the ruling." Such verdicts do not inspire confidence in a judicial system that has become suspect as of late, with charges of malpractices and corruption among those dispensing justice!

In another instance, in a major charitable organization with funding in the millions, the directors of the charity started first with charitable acts towards themselves. Trusted with dispersing much needed relief by the needy, some went so far as to pad up their per diems by falsifying the number of days on their trips or on their flight expenses! And since audit and accountability were sketchy at best, they got away with it.

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