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The announcement has had an earthquake-like effect across Algerian administrations and state enterprises. For the first time, public servants will be investigated if their assets do not reflect the level of their salary income or are not justified by other resources, such as a family inheritance.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has ordered the acceleration of strengthening the process of the legislative framework for public life and the fight against corruption, in order to bring it into line with amendments made by the constitutional reform of 1 November 2020.
On 2 January, the presidential directive began to take shape through the council of ministers’ review of a draft law that sets the mode of organisation, composition and operation of the Haute Autorité de transparence, de Prévention et de Lutte Contre la Corruption (High Authority for Transparency, Prevention and Fight against Corruption).
How can an executive paid 100,000 dinars ($716), 200,000 dinars or even 300,000 dinars […] afford […] property worth tens of millions of dinars, a luxury car and travel?
“By what means did you obtain these assets?” This is the first question that will be asked by members of the new body charged with investigating the suspicious fattening of pockets of state officials.
The scope of this high anti-corruption authority has not been specified. “In my opinion, this body will be able to open an investigation into any official, civil servant or state executive,” says Boubekeur Sellami, a tax expert. Many executives have a lifestyle that is not compatible with their only source of income, which is their salary.
The Treasury and the public authority will be entitled to probe “how an executive paid 100,000 dinars ($716), 200,000 dinars or even 300,000 dinars can afford […] property worth tens of millions of dinars, a luxury car and travel”, says Sellami. He sees “a very strong political will to restore the confidence of the citizen”, but remains cautious. “It’s the work on the ground that will give value to this body.”
Do not spare the army
Ali Mebroukine, a business law professor and lawyer, believes that the effectiveness of the high authority “lies in monitoring the evolution of the assets of public officials”.
“The cases investigated by the magistrates of the financial institution and those already judged have revealed the extraordinary discrepancy between the assets of the official at the time they were appointed, and that established by the competent judicial authorities after the end of their duties, in the context of investigations conducted between 2019 and 2020,” he says in reference to cases related to the former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
However, Sellami believes, “this body must be fair and equitable” by investigating “a simple official of a service, a director general, a wali, a minister or a military [official] in office”.
Mebroukine also believes that the objectives of the body “must be broad” enough to include “the CEOs of public companies, who are elected by the board of directors alone; the presidents of sports federations; senior officers and generals of the national army; and members of the Supreme Council of the Judiciary, the Algerian judiciary being by far the most corrupt sector with the tax and customs.”
Nasr-Eddine Lezzar, a lawyer specialising in business law, however insists that the “categorical and selective approach of the public authorities is clearly insufficient”. He says: “Why limit ourselves to public officials when illicit enrichment also exists in the private economic sector, in sports, the justice system and political parties?”
The means that will be made available to the high authority has also raised many questions.
Since independence, we have not seen the creation of an independent and free body acting without fear and without orders transmitted by telephone.
The current authorities, as Sellami points out, “are content to control the tax situation of people holding wealth. This is far from sufficient to prevent the illicit enrichment of senior officials. The network of information banker, tax and trade registers must be made available to investigators”.
“This body can only accomplish its task in satisfactory conditions if it has the support of all other control institutions, including the tax administration, which must be modernised and purged of its corrupt elements. For the moment, there is still a long way to go,” says Mebroukine.
“This is why the declaration of assets must be duly verified on all the elements that constitute it. There is always the temptation on the part of those concerned to underestimate or undervalue their movable and immovable assets,” he says.
Settling of accounts
Still within the framework of the missions to be attributed to the high authority, the careful examination of the variation of the patrimony is highly important, according to Djilali Hadjadj, president of the Algerian Association of the Fight Against Corruption.
His organisation recommends other parameters to be taken into account.
“The declarations of assets must be accessible to the public. It is also necessary to identify the declarants, provide them with advice and assistance, particularly on their declarative obligations; collect, record, and publish received declarations; ensure the check of declarations of assets and interests; verify the accuracy, completeness and sincerity of these declarations; implement the appropriate investigative prerogatives; pilot the tax audit of public officials and transmit them to the judicial authority…” says Hadjadj.
The creation of a body composed of civil servants to investigate other civil servants is rather dubious.
In addition to the adequate means to be made available to this body, Sellami hopes that the practices of the past will not be repeated. “Since independence, we have not seen the creation of an independent and free body acting without fear and without orders transmitted by telephone. It should not enter the game of settling political or economic accounts,” he says.
For those same reasons, Mebroukine recommends that this authority does not depend on “any institution of the state and be endowed with financial autonomy”, with the obligation to inform the public prosecutor on facts likely to constitute a criminal offence and to pursue them.
“The body must also ensure that there is no incompatibility between the status of [a] former minister, for example, and the exercise of a liberal activity within a company. It can issue an incompatib[le] opinion that will have to prevent the minister from carrying out his missions on behalf of this firm without making its opinions public.”
The professor of criminal law also considers it crucial to ensure that the members of the body, as well as their spouses, do not find themselves in a conflict of interest situation while exercising their functions.
Too many bodies?
Finally, these experts fear a juxtaposition of anti-corruption bodies that could lead to harmful competition between them. Lezzar fears that the high authority and the Central Office for the Repression of Corruption could step on each other’s toes.
“The proliferation of authorities could have perverse effects, with the risk of collusion and placing levers in the hands of opposing clans in power. It is more appropriate to strengthen the powers of existing structures than to create new ones. The creation of a body composed of civil servants to investigate other civil servants is rather dubious,” he says.
“Its investigations or results will lack credibility, as is the case with the Human Rights Council, an institution that surveys respect for human rights by the powers that created it – it appoints its members, finances its activities and pays for its silence or its reports,” says the lawyer.
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