Bribery is a Curable Social Malaise

The benefits to businesses, public morale, work ethics, efficient public service and the country’s global image can be immense, if uniform and enforceable anti-bribery laws are put into place.

Inspector-General-And-FBI-Detail-Bribery-Investigation-460x240Bribery is a social, economic, development-impeding and bankrupting practice that can be made too costly for swindlers who exploit people to enrich themselves and to enrich those who do not submit to the same rules they force others to obey.

While corruption and corruptible individuals and institutions cannot totally be eradicated in any society, public officials and merchants can be held accountable and fully responsible for their transgressions.

Curtailment of bribery exists and is adhered to in societies where no one is above the rule of law and where public scrutiny is guaranteed by non-sectarian constitutions and transparent independent court systems. Violators of anti-bribery laws in open societies can be charged with crimes against the public interest and stigmatized for the rest of their lives.

Three related events occurred in the Middle East in March and May 2014 that demonstrate the striking differences between governance under the rule of law and the whims of self-appointed men who punish citizens for advocating accountability, transparency and equality under the law.

In May 2014, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was sentenced to five years imprisonment for a bribery scandal in which he was involved. The Israeli court compared the former Prime Minister’s action with treason because he betrayed public trust by enriching himself illegally.

In the same month, former Omani Commerce Minister Mohammed Al-Khusaibi was sentenced to three years in prison for bribing another Omani official to win a lucrative contract. Mohammed Al-Khusaibi is the first high official to be convicted of public larceny and to be sentenced to imprisonment for bribery in the entire corruption-infested Gulf Arab States.

While convicting and penalizing the highest Israeli officials for their misconduct is common place, it’s a refreshing change to hear of the Omani courts’ decision to convict a minister with close personal and working relationships with the ruler of Oman, Sultan Qaboos. This is an unusual, but encouraging embryonic step one can only hope will spread and become the norm in the Gulf region, especially in Saudi Arabia whose draconian domestic policies many people in the smaller Gulf states blame for lack of political, economic and social progress in the region.

While some steps have been taken to fight corruption in Saudi Arabia, including King Abdullah’s establishment of an anti-corruption Commission in 2011, no Saudi high official, royal or commoner, has been convicted despite the fact that corruption is still rampant within the Saudi government.

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The Commission has been ineffective because it is restricted by government’s mandate which prevents it from going after the well-known swindlers of public wealth, mostly members of the ruling family, such as defense officials. The mandate limits the Commission’s assignment to go after corrupt petty officials and merchants, but not members of the ruling family and their major business and religious partners who are exempted from the laws applied to other members of society. The non-sectarian rule of law which is applicable to all members of a free society is considered a Western value which is antithetical to God’s will and to Islamic teachings and traditions in Saudi Arabia.

Consequently, the result in Saudi Arabia is corruption sustained by arbitrary interpretation and implementation of religious laws (Shariah) by the government and its agencies. In contrast to the secular rule of law demonstrated in the Israeli case, and in the unusual Omani case, the Saudi regime continues to rely on arbitrary sectarian laws which not only deny individuals protection from public and private abuses, but perpetuate corruption, social injustice and immunity from punishment for the top larcenists of public property.

Furthermore, the Saudi government is using its sectarian laws to punish and ostracize those who advocate the creation of codified non-sectarian rule of law. For example, Raif Badawi, an aspiring Saudi political reformer, was sentenced in March 2014 to 10 years imprisonment, 1,000 lashes and a fine of $267, 000 for advocating the institution of non-sectarian rule of law to replace the current arbitrary religious laws which are based on the interpretation of and are managed by extremist cleric judges. Like many other Saudi reformers and human rights activists, Badawi became a victim of the arbitrary religion based rules because of the absence of rule of law that put the former highest Israeli office in prison.

Implementing a uniform rule of law can drastically minimize corruption in Saudi Arabia as it has in democratically governed societies. The benefits to businesses, public morale, work ethics, efficient public service and the country’s global image can be immense, if uniform and enforceable anti-bribery laws are put into place.

Dr. Ali Alyami is the founder and executive director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, CDHR, in Washington, DC. CDHR focuses on promoting peaceful and incremental democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia, including empowerment of women, religious freedom, free flow of information, free movement, free press, privatization of government industries, free elections, non-sectarian constitution, and codified rule of law, transparency and accountabilityRead other articles by Ali.