World Economy

Petty Corruption Plagues Tunisia

Petty Corruption Plagues TunisiaPetty Corruption Plagues Tunisia

Petty graft plagues Tunisia’s economy, nearly five years after state corruption triggered the fall of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, partly due to lack of political will, experts say.

Corruption was endemic under long-time dictator Ben Ali, whose close circle–especially his wife’s family–had an iron grip on the economy, AFP reported.

Public debate has again centered around the topic after President Beji Caid Essebsi in July presented to the cabinet a draft “economic and financial reconciliation” bill that would grant amnesty to those convicted of corruption if they return stolen public money and pay fines.

Hundreds of Tunisians defied a protest ban last month to demonstrate against the draft law, which they see as absolving the “corrupt” of their crimes. Several people have been jailed on corruption charges or have fled the country since Ben Ali’s ouster.

Today, “large-scale corruption has been put on pause... notably because there haven’t been any big projects due to security, economic and social instability,” Samir Annabi, head of the national anti-graft commission set up in late 2011, told AFP.

But “petty corruption has been on the rise,” he said. “Ben Ali’s large-scale corruption has disappeared to give way to the trivialization of petty corruption.”

Common occurrences include tax evasion, doctored entry exam results for public sector jobs and bribes to speed up official paperwork.

 $230m in Bribes

At least 450 million dinars ($230 million) in bribes were slipped to state employees in 2013 alone, according to a study conducted by the Tunisian Association for Public Auditors.

But although there is hard evidence against those responsible, some of them have been promoted instead of being punished, said Sharfeddine Yakhoubi, the head of the association.

Beyond the civil service, “a new generation of businessmen and politicians have grown richer” since the 2011 revolution, sometimes gaining from this rampant corruption, added Mouheb Garoui, who heads “I Watch”, a branch of corruption watchdog Transparency International.

In total, corruption costs Tunisia the equivalent of 2% of its gross domestic product, said a World Bank report titled “The Unfinished Revolution”, adding that this loss was particularly costly for an emerging democracy with a flailing economy.