It was with pleasure that I read the following on the front page of the GDN this morning:
A new law will force ministers, top government officials, MPs, Shura and municipal councillors to declare their personal finances. An independent commission of judges will have sweeping powers to investigate their finances, including those of their spouses and children.
Those who fail to comply, or found guilty of financial crime, will face heavy fines and/or jail sentences.
This is obviously in response to a Parliamentary Wish tabled some time ago requiring such a thing to happen, the government then formulated this wish into legislation – which is its right under the by-laws – and returned it back to parliament for approval.
I didn’t see the draft law yet, but like everyone else concerned with accountability in Bahrain, I am anxious to see its contents; particularly the exceptions – if present – and what the actual penalties are and if they are sufficient for deterring corrupt officials from continuing to abuse their positions. Will this law, for instance, only limit the declarations of wealth to be “correct and acceptable” from the time it is issued, or will it have any provision to force officials to show how they got their current wealth? What is to happen to that wealth should it be considered ill-begotten? All this remains to be seen. I am not very enthusiastic as what has been reported as fines and sentences in the papers is a pittance when compared to the wealth amassed by various officials in this country. But I’ll keep the final judgement to when the law is applied and convictions are made.
It is important; therefore, to understand how the law defines corruption, as when it was last attempted, the result was quite varied and officials suggested that concept is quite elastic; thus, rendering the definition and the law toothless.
Which brings me to the question of the independence of the commission tasked with overseeing this new law – when and if it sees the light. The question must be asked, will they ever be independent and be seen as such if they are appointed – with all due respect – by his majesty? Or will they be subservient to the government’s wishes and not pursue the fight against corruption with the required gusto? Or even worse, will they drop a case once identified due to governmental or royal court pressure due to their affiliation?
As to the judiciary, so far it has been shown somewhat ineffective and there is quite a road to tread to get it to improve and gain the people’s trust and confidence. Hence, it is just as important to completely reform the judiciary in parallel to effecting this new legislation.
I hope these kinds of reactions to the low level gained by Bahrain in the recent Corruption Perception Index will continue. The government seems to finally have gotten the message, as the options to continue to ignore world opinion in this regard particularly will shake the foundations of the country’s economy. It looks, so far, that the government are finally acknowledging this fact and are doing something about it.
It is up to the parliament to ensure that these oversight tools are not watered down one bit, but strengthened with their determination to extricate corruption and corrupt officials. Abrogating their responsibility by continuing to colour their decisions based on confessional association is not an option. They must act in a cohesive bipartisan manner in order for this country to pull itself out of the entrenched quagmire.