Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government took some preliminary steps to implement these laws. On July 17, remedying a gap seen by civil society as enabling government corruption, parliament adopted the Assets Declaration Law, requiring public officials to declare their assets upon being elected or appointed and upon leaving office. The law went into effect October 16, stipulating a 60-day deadline for officials to declare their assets.
As of December 2, the National Commission to Combat Corruption (INLUCC) reported that 5,660 people had declared their assets out of an estimated total number of 350,000.
One year after the entry into force of the Access to Information Act, the independent commission established to implement the law issued its first judgments. On February 1, the commission ordered the disclosure of beneficiaries of taxi permits in Mahdia, and on March 7, it ruled that seven local governments must divulge the details of a public construction contract. In the justification for its decisions, the Authority for Access to Information stated that the new law requires government agencies to provide the public access to information pertaining to the issuance of government contracts if this information is not proactively provided.
The INLUCC, an independent body established in 2011 to investigate and prevent corruption and to draft policies to combat corruption, continued to process corruption cases. During a March press conference, INLUCC President Chawki Tabib reiterated past concerns that the budget allocated to this commission was seriously insufficient to implement a comprehensive anticorruption strategy. According to Tabib, the most common types of corruption reported to INLUCC are misappropriation of public funds and inappropriate employment practices in the public sector.
Corruption: The government’s anticorruption campaign led by the prime minister continued during the year with a series of arrests and investigations that targeted well known businessmen, politicians, and other government officials. In two notable cases, the preliminary charges included mismanagement of public funds, fraud, and taking bribes. On August 31, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed dismissed the minister of energy and mines, Khaled Kaddour, and four other high-ranking officials for allegations of bribery and permitting illegal energy exploration. Minister of Health Imed Hammami dismissed Central Pharmacy CEO Moez Mokaddem on April 12, citing suspicions of corruption and misallocation of public resources. The dismissal followed widespread media reports of corruption, drug shortages, and cash flow problems at the Central Pharmacy as well as reports of higher-level mismanagement of public health funds and inefficient management procedures that opened the public health system up to abuse.
While many expressed full support to the prime minister’s campaign and urged him to take further steps, a number of human rights organizations criticized the use of the state of emergency law as the basis for the arrests. They expressed concern that it gives the government full discretion to try civilians before a military rather than a civil court. In 2017 authorities arrested Chafik Jarraya and several other prominent businessmen on charges of smuggling and embezzlement, as well as conspiracy against the safety of the state and complicity with a foreign government. On August 23, the High Court of Tunis rejected a decision made by a lower court to transfer Jarraya’s case to the military tribunal and transferred his case to the Tunis Court of Appeals for re-examination as a civil, rather than military justice case.
Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires those holding high government offices to declare assets “as provided by law.” On July 17, parliament adopted the “Assets Declaration Law,” fulfilling a long-standing demand from civil society and anticorruption champions. The new law identifies 35 categories of public officials required to declare their assets upon being elected or appointed and upon leaving office. The law also enumerates a “gift” policy, defines measures to avoid conflicts of interest, and stipulates the sanctions that apply in cases of illicit enrichment. INLUCC will receive declarations from all of the officials covered by the law, and will be required to maintain all related records in a dedicated database.